mentalEscape – Grunge Tape 2

 mentalEscape – Grunge Tape 2

mentalEscape – Grunge Tape 2 – Album Review

I could seriously use some mentalEscape right now.  mentalEscape from routine, mentalEscape from making dinner every day, mentalEscape from my cat that keeps screamin’ at me every morning…you name it.  I’ve just been…more tired than I’m used to being lately…and it’s been starting to get to me.

Thankfully, whenever I start to feel this way, I can turn to the endless creativity of the independent music-scene to snap me back into place.  Mind you, it’s not every artist or band that can accomplish the incredible task of breaking me out of a funk & getting me to groove to one instead, but mentalEscape is definitely among those that qualify.  Mirza Causevic, aka Miz, is essentially synonymous with entertainment, and always has been, reliably, since I’ve been listening in my experience – he crushed it with his Drama EP back in 2018, and the original Grunge Tape, which I reviewed back in April earlier this year.  So hellz YES – if you’re tellin’ me he’s got a sequel and I’m in a mood that requires mentalEscape – then sign me UP.

The bounce & edgy sound of “Bones” instantly sets the tone for Grunge Tape 2.  I’m sure I’ve likely mentioned it in the past, but just in case you’re catching up, mentalEscape resides closer to the IDM side of Electo-based sound than the EDM side…not that I’m sayin’ ya couldn’t dance to this if you wanted to, I’m sure you could – I’ve seen some of your moves out there, and sure, ain’t no time like the present to get your freak on if you’re feelin’ so inclined.  “Bones” delivers on just as much haunting & eerie sound as it does purely gripping audio entertainment – good ol’ Miz is firing up the intensity of Grunge Tape 2 straight off the drop, and the weight of it all can’t be denied.  “Bones” comes out swinging with engaging sound, a complete badass set of ideas, and all the many unexpected twists & turns you’d expect to find coming from the music of mentalEscape.  No joke, you hear the supreme bounce in the bass-led beat of this cut and it just amps you right up.  mentalEscape plays this opening track more than a little on the dirty & gritty side of sound when it comes to the production aspect…the clarity is everywhere, but he’ll make you dig for it under layers of textures & tones that’ll reach you much more quickly in the mix.  There’s inherent risk that comes with that of course, but it’s not like Miz wouldn’t be fully aware of it; at the end of the day, it’s all intentional…this is the Grunge Tape 2 after all – if you were somehow expecting clean, straightforward, typical tunes…man-oh-man did you end up in the wrong department today.  “Bones” sounds freakin’ great if you ask me – I love wild sensory vibes like he’s supplyin’ here.

Solid grooves to be discovered here – “Hex” is a stellar example of just how thicc with two Cs mentalEscape can produce sound at, and how universally spot-on the mix can truly be when he wants to add that extra clarity.  We’re not talking about any kind of easy task here folks – wrestling the low-end of a track like “Hex” under the red-line would take superhuman strength – I felt like this track really shows you the man’s technique as he takes you from a more clear vibe at the start, and morphs it back towards the gritty sound we’ve been digging on with this Grunge Tape series so far when the low-end detonates and switches the entire direction of “Hex” to follow.  Listen to that freakin’ brilliant addition around the 1:10 mark, or 1:25-ish to follow!  Not only do you get a track that’s got a core vibe that would have likely been more than enough to keep most of ya entertained on its own, but Miz keeps on flexing his innovative ways, finding cracks of space here & there that can be filled with exciting sound.  The results speak even louder than the bass does – you’ll just never get bored, ever, and that’s the facts.  There’s no doubt mentalEscape is going for BIG sound on a track like “Hex” – which really has an all-encompassing atmosphere that threatens to swallow your speakers & subwoofers whole in the process – call me crazy if ya like, there’s nothing I’m hearing in these opening cuts that’s not entirely engaging.

Hittin’ that Electro-Trap sound bang-on, “Blood Tax” keeps that low-end punchin’ ya hard as it has been on the opening cuts as Grunge Tape 2 continues.  I dig the sound selection this guy uses, and I dig the precision he’s consistently workin’ with in the finest details you hear added into the mix and within the background elements stacking up to create the vibe in “Blood Tax.”  As for the main melody itself…honestly, that’s a harder call to make on this particular track – I think it’s got genuinely hypnotic qualities to it that were often able to pull me onboard as I listened to this record throughout the past week or so…but if we’re talking about what the masses can handle, or whether or not it’s going to hold up over time…my gut tells me there’s a good chance “Blood Tax” might wear out quicker than others do.  Being less than three-minutes in length, there’s a bit of an advantage in the sense that it’s got an extremely defined sound of its own in this lineup and it passes by pretty quickly…but if you were to check this record out a couple times in a row, you’d end up feeling like you spent a lot more time with “Blood Tax” than you actually did, you feel me?  For myself, this cut was all about the details to be found underneath the surface…the stellar use of Electro-percussion and many layers of sound that actually form the meat of the supporting melody…that’s where to most enticing magic of “Blood Tax” takes place in my opinion…but I also ain’t denying that at certain times, I’d listen to this track and not want anything to change at all too.  Sometimes I liked that main Electro-melody line’s aggressive nature and somewhat grating tone that it comes with…like so much of the music we listen to, it’s mood-dependent.

Think of it this way…mentalEscape could easily by synonymous with mentalPuzzle or mentalChallenge too, you know what I mean?  As I listened to “Rumination” I ended up getting right into the thick of this cut…it’s arguably the most ambitious of the first four in many ways, but also likely the least accessible as a result of that expanded creativity you’ll find.  But having said that, as I’ve often told ya – sometimes a single moment in a song can go on to define just how much we like or love it – and every single time the piano melody entered into the mix, I found myself ready to jump up on my soapbox and start advocating on behalf of this cut being one of the record’s best.  Then the low-end would rip on in to invade it about halfway through or earlier, and it wouldn’t quite retain that same degree of captivating sound as a result of the jarring juxtaposition between energies at work here.  Essentially what I’m saying is mentalEscape is probably a little guilty of making some things a bit tougher to love than perhaps they need to be – I’m all for ingenuity, I’m all for flexin’ creativity…these are great attributes to have as an artist in any realm – but at the same time, it’s really tough to be able to identify major hooks that work, and hear them used so sparingly, or arguably passed over more than they should be for the specialness they offer our ears.  Like, as in, you’ll probably find you went through about five or six major hooks that most artists & bands would have gone on to form an entire song around…and perhaps that’s an old-school, somewhat exploitative method of songwriting & structures, but there’s a high degree of accessibility that comes with it.  As it stands, “Rumination” is an important cut to Grunge Tape 2 because it does find a more noticeably unique & expressive vibe to it, but that’s also the same thing that kind of works against it as well – there are moments of this track that stand out brilliantly, and others that meander a bit too far for the majority of folks out there to be able to hang with.  All depends on what the goals are of course.

Dude is really diggin’ on those textural low-end vibes – you’ll hear’em spring to life on “Damaged” once again and quickly become the dominant attribute.  It’s really hard to say how the everyday listener would react to what they hear from mentalEscape…some might notice the clarity in the layers surrounding the low-end and appreciate the intentional way the sound explodes through your speakers with that static-like texture to it…others are just gonna mistake it for production that’s off the mark, and unfortunately, Miz has gotta accept that in either scenario really.  How we hear music, what our experience is like…no matter if the person listening has any experience behind the studio boards or not, or has ever held an instrument in their entire life – they still offer a valid perspective to be considered.  I think to listen to Grunge Tape 2 is pretty much to have an understanding of what mentalEscape is going for as an overall sound here…and if you don’t get to that point, you might be one of the people missing out on what this dude is laying down.  “Damaged” pushes that red-line threshold and crunches in sound – I don’t think anyone listening would deny it stands out supremely, it’s just a matter of personal taste from there and whether or not the way it stands out is something they can handle in what they listen to.  While I suspect a track like “Damaged” is fairly beyond the scope of most, I have no doubt that real fans of IDM, EDM, Electro & all-that – even whatever you’d wanna cram into the Experimental genre, whatever that is – you’ll all have no problem whatsoever digging what mentalEscape does, because the value of uniqueness is always worth listening to, ain’t it?  Tracks like “Damaged” offer just as many hooks through the ideas in the music as you’ll hear in the techniques applied in the production – and in my opinion, while that might still not appeal to everyone out there, it’s a pretty damn rad way to approach making music all-around.  Think of it like this – when everything goes completely right and in your favor, you’ve got like, two ways of creating a hook inside of one single moment when you employ methods like mentalEscape does…make no mistake y’all, that’s a seriously impressive accomplishment, and it’s a feature of the entire sound at work on Grunge Tape 2 that gets flexed with surgical precision.

“Foreign” is about as close to indifferent as you’re gonna find me about any of the songs on this record.  Not a bad song, not a great one either – this is the kind of track that gets really hard to advocate for after the supreme doses of creativity you’ve heard earlier on in the lineup so far.  What you’ll like about “Foreign” in its low-end rumble is something you can get out of just about any other cut in the set, and as for the rest of its ideas and melodies…they’re alright, I ain’t gonna lie to ya, I never ended up skipping over this track, but at the same time, I gotta call things like I hear’em – and it always felt to me like when it came to this particular tune, I was hearing a song that mentalEscape would be capable of making ten times a day.  So while yes, it still fits cohesively enough onto Grunge Tape 2, and yes, it still offers just enough of an entertaining spark to keep you listening and engaged – this is one of those songs I’d be standing back and looking at objectively if I were mentalEscape and asking if this cut really pushed the boundaries, or challenged his creativity, or if it ended up being as unique as perhaps it could have been.  Right now as it stands for me, “Foreign” needed something more to sound as exciting as mentalEscape is capable of being…I liked it, but felt myself desperately seeking out a reason to love it, whereas just about every other cut on Grunge Tape 2 supplies that in spades.  I ain’t accusing Miz of phoning it in here – there’s still a high degree of craft and identity in the sound of a song like “Foreign” – and heck, maybe it’s just a melody that really resonates with him, ain’t nothing wrong with that – but I would advise taking that step back from the material, being as objective as possible, examine how it relates to the rest of what’s around it on the record, and whether or not it pushes the rest of the set forward overall by being included.  I’m not all that sure I can say that’s the case here really, but I still enjoyed it.

Perhaps the point is best made by “Sativa Rose” – a track that stands out instantly from the very first second, and continues to thump on forward in a way that simply could never be ignored or remotely questioned – this track jams!  It’s got the juice, it’s got the energy, it’s got the live-wire spark of genuinely EXCITING sound, and there’s no set of ears out there that could possibly come to a different conclusion – “Sativa Rose” is without a doubt, destined to be one of the real highlights for listeners out there in the set-list of Grunge Tape 2, and rightly so!  There’s DRAMA, there’s ADVENTURE, there’s MYSTERY…you run the gamut of enticing vibes & sound with mentalEscape on “Sativa Rose” – you even get a hint of vocals running through the mix with a soulful sample drifting in through the background.  Everything about this track, wall-to-wall, is straight-up perfection if you ask me – I wouldn’t change a thing about this cut, and it’s just as much of a significant highlight for me as I’m sure it will be for YOU.  For real y’all – the ELECTRICITY in the air of this track is magnificent, full-stop – when you’re talking about atmospheric cuts that hit hard – this is a perfect example to point to; as far as the use of texture and technique goes, it’s equally impeccable, and once again right on target with the vibe of the whole album.  It’s still larger-than-life and more than your speakers & tiny lil’ tweeters can handle – I ain’t denying that – but if you’re rockin’ with a sufficient system when you listen to your music, you can’t miss out on the exquisite way that texture and sensory sound plays such a huge role in the success of a track like “Sativa Rose.”  I jam this track LOUD folks…like…as in, neighbors be callin’ the COPS loud…and I’ve still never found a way to get enough of it into my ears all at once…that’s not on mentalEscape – Miz has done everything right here on “Sativa Rose” – it’s on me, completely, for being a fiend for every morsel of kickass sound he’s providing on this single-worthy song from Grunge Tape 2, and I’m actually proud of my addiction.  If you don’t like “Sativa Rose,” I just might have to get out the gloves and start fisticuff’n.

So…in some ways, I felt a bit similar towards “Pure Dirt” as I did with “Foreign,” in the sense that I think there’s as aspect to the design & flow of the structure that mentalEscape could create in his sleep – but I’d argue this is a much more successful version of that in regards to its overall appeal.  In terms of that, we’re talking top-shelf stuff here really – the universal accessibility in the sound of a song like “Pure Dirt” is pretty much on display at every opportunity.  It’s a lower-key vibe when it comes right down to it, and kind of sticks closer to the EDM script this time around – but there’s also something to be said for creating a cut that the majority of listeners could easily connect with, which is kind of the point I was making earlier on with “Rumination.”  You get that in-depth exploration of a more singular concept at the core of this idea on “Pure Dirt” – and while that might take away a bit of the scattered moments of pure sonic brilliance unique unto themselves, the trade you make is for a song that satisfies without question from its start to finish.  I suppose what I’m saying is that “Pure Dirt” resides in the comfort zone a bit more than the rest of the set, but that that’s okay!  That doesn’t have to be a bad thing whatsoever – like I said, it’s all about standing back, looking at a record overall, and asking that all-important question of whether or not this song or that song adds to the experience – to me, “Pure Dirt” absolutely did.  It might not be nearly as in-your-face as a song like “Sativa Rose” was just beforehand, but every moment you’ll hear throughout “Pure Dirt” is as compelling as it is enticing as it is entertaining – the kind of song you listen to & know that there’s a ton of people out there that would connect to it, 100%.

Where the rubber meets the road on the methods mentalEscape uses with the bass-driven sounds on Grunge Tape 2, is that it’s likely always going to be the dominant trait in what people hear, because it is audibly THAT MASSIVE, every single time.  Where that’s gonna catch up with him, is on songs like “Apathy” – and I’d suspect from the title, he might even know that.  When you’ve got a sound that’s so dominant it’s the main aspect of what people hear, that’s where diversity is required more than we tend to realize, and also where the threat of the rest of what you do becoming ignored completely, can exist.  I listen to the details in the atmosphere of “Apathy” and I’m like, good gravyboat lighthouse, do NOT let people miss out on this stuff – yet I suspect that’s probably gonna happen on this particular cut.  The back & forth of the main synth-line doesn’t have nearly enough variation to it – it SOUNDS bored – which is exactly why I say, this could very well be mentalEscape seeking to capture a specific vibe when you factor in the title of “Apathy” – or just indicate an unwillingness to explore what it could become any further than what it already was.  Don’t get me wrong, we all do things differently out there – and if either of these scenarios are what took place, they’re equally valid all the same – but as to whether or not “Apathy” is a vibe that people are gonna directly seek out…I dunno…I’m having a hard time believing it is.  It’s still got a hypnotic & mesmerizing quality to it that could potentially be enough for some out there I suppose…a bit of a hazy & dreamy vibe underneath the surface of the back & forth bass-notes…I guess it just felt like the best of what’s in “Apathy” didn’t stand a full chance of standing out as it should.

Listen to the effect Miz…”Gotta Let Go” proves the point right afterwards once again – the low-end sound is still intact bro – your street cred is fully preserved, no worries!  But the reality is, here on this track, it’s not the dominant trait…so even though what’s happening there isn’t really flexing any more movement in its design than a track like “Apathy” did right beforehand, with a little less volume, everything else surrounding it truly comes ALIVE in all the right ways.  I mean, it’s partly that…and partly the fact that “Gotta Let Go” is a much more exciting idea and stunning cutting-edge Electro melody overall, but no matter how you slice it or what you feel contributes to its success, mix-wise, idea-wise, sound-wise – whatever – we can all agree that this song IS amazing, yes?  Extraordinary cut from mentalEscape here, no two ways about it – that’s the kind of universal appeal & artistic uniqueness you wanna hear in tandem for an artist like Miz with his superhuman abilities – you FEEL “Gotta Let Go.”  Not a solitary second out of place if you ask me – and a mix that really complements the multiple strengths this guy has as a melodic innovator…it’s beautiful, it’s fascinating, it’s endearing, it’s…it’s…it’s PERFECTION y’all – what else can be said?  I might still side with a track like “Sativa Rose” having more potential to make an impact as a single & draw people in with the riotous energy it has – but if you were to go the low-key & mellow route in that respect, I mean…”Gotta Let Go” would make a sensational choice as well.  In my opinion, it’s probably the most accessible track on all of Grunge Tape 2 and stands an incredible chance of being loved by every set of ears lucky enough to have a listen – mentalEscape is at its absolute finest here on “Gotta Let Go” and delivers a song that’s as emotionally intense as it is immaculately dreamy, soothing, and serene – this is the kind of cut that leads an artist to the pathway forward for those next years to come.  It’s pretty much guaranteed to be everyone’s favorite cut – I’d kinda be surprised if it wasn’t if I’m being real with ya…it’s such a powerfully moving and extraordinary moment in music…”Gotta Let Go” wasn’t just a highlight on Grunge Tape 2 for me, it was one for 2021.

Of course, the effect of a song that strong, is that naturally, the next cut ends up with the toughest slot to fill.  And look – I’ll be real with ya – I think mentalEscape chose about as well as he potentially could have with “Magenta” – I’m not gonna argue it’s the cut of all cuts on this record, but I can confirm it held its own well enough coming after what’s inarguably one of the best tracks I’ve heard this entire year.  I dig it really…there’s a playfulness to “Magenta” that doesn’t really show up in any of the other tracks and I liked the bounce of the radiant sounds he’s chosen, dig the whispery breakdown & eventual bring-back…I mean, at any other spot in the lineup, I think it would have probably stood out a little bit more than it does perhaps, but by that same token – SOME song had to take this place in the set-list no matter what – and with the vibrant way the sound selection at work stands out…like I said, it’s pretty much the best possible candidate that could have filled this role and still had a chance to be noticed.  Coming after “Gotta Let Go” is the pinnacle of difficult tasks…”Magenta” isn’t going to measure up to that mountain of achievement, but it will entertain ya sufficiently, and that’s all we should really ever hope to find at the end of the day.  It’s tough to follow up our own incredible moments of pure sonic genius when we have them – mentalEscape made a significant breakthrough with “Gotta Let Go” and very well might have raised the bar permanently for himself in the process – “Magenta” gives you just enough to keep you engaged while you come down from the ultimate highlight, like audible methadone.

“Trip Out” ended the record on real solid ground – a flexible hybrid that seemed to really sum up the whole experience of listening to Grunge Tape 2 in a way that genuinely satisfies.  Adding a bit more spark to the melody, brightness, and hooks of the whole vibe, “Trip Out” takes large departures into avant-garde breakdowns and unique transitions, morphing the sound of the song along the way and creating audible chapters that each offer something different.  I am like…99% sure that the clacking you hear in the space of those breakdowns comes from those wind-up chattering teeth on legs – doesn’t it?  You know those novelty toy things I’m talking about right?  Whatever it is…I mean…I know it probably ain’t supposed to be the MAIN highlight and I’m not saying that it IS – but whatever the heck it is, gives you a really rad dimension of this song that’s bizarrely close-up, like we’re right there lookin’ at it.  The teeth that is.  Because I’m right about that – aren’t it?  Isn’t that the wind-up you can hear before the chattering?  That’s gotta be the teeth toy!  Or maybe I’m just trippin’ out on “Trip Out” and maybe that sound isn’t even there at all.  There ARE teeth in this song, right?  Or am I cold?  Is that it?  Are those MY teeth?  Ahhhh you just never know what a critic or fan might comment on about in your music, eh folks?  Suffice it to say, I felt like the supremely vibrant bass-line grooves of “Trip Out” were massively effective, the song’s most serene moments were like a crack of sunshine into this mysterious melody, and the hooks are essentially found in every part you’ll hear, even at mentalEscape’s most daring in the breakdowns.  Admittedly, it’s an odd twist in the direction that would be impossible to see coming after how accessible the rest of “Trip Out” is – but that much of a dramatic departure & space in sound also has an inherent hook of its own, just by the very nature of the dynamics at work.  Might not be the traditional hooks you normally experience – but heck, not many of mentalEscape’s ARE – they’re still hooks all the same, and that exploratory uniqueness & willingness to do new things with music from its texture to tones & frequencies, is by far one of the most alluring & addictive aspects of his electronic art.  It was the mentalEscape I needed, that much I can tell ya for sure – there’s tons of innovative creativity in this guy’s music.

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