Who is MellowHigh? Easy enough: It’s the not-that-new combination of producer/rapper duo Left Brain and Hodgy Beats with an always game Domo Genesis. But really, who is MellowHigh? We know what they were a few years back. Domo Genesis played the entertaining, but not all that impressive smoker on his 2010 mixtape Rolling Papers, while MellowHype had their agenda laid out on 2010′s haunting BlackenedWhite. Actually, it wasn’t much of an agenda as the duo played the role of the less heinous delinquents to Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt’s horror show.
The group never strayed too far from the Odd Future template but the collective was never really about new ideas to begin with. Shock lyrics were one thing, but what captivated fanatics and critics alike was the collective’s undeniable energy and execution, a.k.a. two things that made BlackenedWhite such a compelling release. Hodgy Beats was the snarling technician—sprinkling bits of venom as he went along—with Tyler, Earl, and Domo Genesis stopping by to help. The more subdued Left Brain injected his voice through production that felt car stereo ready and inventive all at once. As the OF hype died down, Earl and Tyler went onto releasing impressive and occasionally confounding albums, while MellowHype couldn’t figure out the next step. The duo’s staleness revealed itself in the decent, but exhausting Numbers, and MellowHigh finds themselves continuing downward even with the addition of Domo. Too many things feel grayscale here: the hooks, a lot of verses, the production.
Part of the appeal of Left Brain’s earthy, synth-heavy style was how glitchy and straight up weird it was, keeping listeners on their toes. The weirdness is substituted for hamfistedness here. There are clear attempts at bangers throughout MellowHigh, but a lot of them have the effect of an amateur throwing jabs at a Floyd Mayweather. Given the group’s prior success, the occasional lapses into amateurism found on MellowHigh feel like a lack of effort, not some ambitious failure. An attention to melody and progression is apparent, but it all feels too standard for an Odd Future album—and standardization leads to boredom. The beat selection is decent in the first quarter of the album with a genuine banger in “Yu,” but soon we get the drowsy, staccato synths of if “Self Titled” and the skippable drone of “Troublesome.” There’s stomping percussion on “Roofless” and neon-gazing synths on “Cold World,” but nothing really sounds all that definitive.
The lack of effervescence on Left Brain’s part isn’t something Hodgy Beats can make up for either. Yes, he’s as technically intact as ever, and yes, Domo Genesis does drop the occasional zinger (“Spittin’ sick, ripping through visions of written syphilis/He slit his wrist to ink all these verses, blood in my penmanship,” he says on “Extinguisher”). But whether it’s lack of charisma or the limited subject matter, nothing really sticks. The haphazardly assembled hooks don’t offer much buoyance either, from the lazily performed ones (“Air,” “Nobody”) to the ill-advised (“Cigarillo”). So while Tyler seeks fulfillment in other creative avenues and Earl ferments himself at the center of speculation, MellowHigh is just there. MellowHigh has its thrills with some credit going to Earl’s playful verse on “Cold World,” but too often the album feels stagnant. Like hype, the thrills are only temporary. -—Brian Josephs