The Optimen – 'The Out of Money Experience'
Though the title might sound like a desperate plea for help in these trying times of economic uncertainty or, more predictably, the old as the ages cliché of the starving artist, The Out Of Money Experience is really anything but. This much-anticipated sophomore album by The Optimen (The OPees to their friends – and they can take all the friends they can get) is the result of work: hard work. The sort of work that keeps you up late at night and makes you late for the next day’s “working for the man”. And it shows.
The three original members and emcees of The Optimen (Sammsonite, DATS and Kristoff The Russian) have never wavered in their commitment to being independent. From release to release, whether their own or for label-mates, and all on their own Red Tape Entertainment imprint, they have done it their own way – even turning down record contracts that most upcoming artists would lay aside a baby-maker for to do it. Add DJ Damage on the turntables and Peter Beaty on live samples and studio mixing detail and you have one of the country’s few thoroughly independent acts, through and through.
This insistence on in-house production carries forward from the beats (courtesy of Sammsonite and DATS) to the cuts and scratches (a tip of the hat to DJ Damage), and even the samples used to give the album its sonic slap to the face were provided by Kristoff The Russian (with the occasional offering by former crew member DJ Sheep). This self-reliance has also been integral in the cultivation of their truly unique sound – warm brass, even warmer bass, gripping guitar riffs, shimmering strings and drums that move through you so freely they could make a religious sister renounce her faith and take a part-time job at a bikini carwash. Add to this the trademark Optimen rap presence and precision of Damage on the cut and you might begin to have an idea of what The Out Of Money Experience sounds like.
Only it’s bigger… And it’s better.
Featuring some of their favourite emcees, both from Australia (Tommy Ill, The Archetypes, Pure Product, Adverse, Lazy Grey and Rainman) and two international legends in the field – Jehst (UK) and Phil The Agony (USA) – and also local vocalists Laneous (Mr Laneous) and Kel (The Kelly Gang), The Out Of Money Experience is galvanized by its strength of guest appearances and not stirred into a turbulence by them as can be the case.
The Out Of Money Experience also represents some standout ‘firsts’ for The Optimen: First time using session musicians – including drums, saxophone, trombone and a range of keys, the first time working with some of their own international rhyme idols, with Jehst bringing his signature introspective reflection and effortless flow for Dust (an exploration into what it means to be human when you take away all of the constructs that society has placed here), and Phil The Agony (Likwit Crew/Strong Arm Steady) with his characteristic commanding of attention on the album ender (and bonus remix track) Number One.
To enhance The Experience for the listener, The Optimen have continued to show considerable growth from their 2002 EP release Breath Control, their debut album Boomtown (’05) and label-showcase Red Tape Renegades: Vol 1 (’07), both in their musical inclination, with a far greater diversity of sounds and assortments of instruments than ever before, beginning with a brooding horn section reminiscent of a Japanese monster flick, sounding the impending doom and destruction like the fading echo of an air raid siren on album opener O Shit!, to the sunshine and lollipops wrapped in a mother’s hug on 80s Babies, in the form of a this time bright horn arrangement that is threaded together with a retro saxophone loop by a hand that just can’t stop snapping its fingers.
The album isn’t only advanced and progressive in terms of its production values and musicality, however. It is also the most diverse work that The Optimen have released topically – which is what really gains attention. While they still deliver their standard (though stepped up) form of ‘battle’ inspired rhymes, replete with ‘bragadociousness’ they have dug deeper this time around, mixing through a palette that begins with reminiscing on days past (80s Babies and time pre-money troubles in Pay Cheques) to the approaching of 30th birthdays (all this year) for emcees Sammsonite, DATS and Kristoff in 30 Rock. On The Rocks gives insight into the rocky relationship goings on the boys have with alcohol, which has been personified here, and Something in the Air featuring local hero Lazy Grey is a pseudo-socio-political address on how we could all be making greater efforts to connect with each other and put our differences aside in the name of getting high… really, really high. Before the album is through, though, The Optimen have to pay hommage to the mostly African American musicians who paved the way for them as a sample-based act but also just for the incredible and inspirational music they have gifted the world with. This track, Respecognise, features the newest Red Tape signess, The Archetypes, as well as the powerful and soulful singing voice of Kel, who takes the track out appropriately.
Indeed, if this album were an outside-of-the-genre musical performance, it’d be Frank ‘Old Blue Eyes’ Sinatra, complete with the New York Philharmonic, performing ‘My Way’ to a packed Madison Square Garden in the mid 70s – only you know that to reach that earth-moving crescendo at the end you first get to enjoy the journey it takes to get there. And that’s what The Out Of Money Experience brings – it’s a journey. An expedition for over an hour that will leave you wishing there were more artists out there who were in it for the music and not the semi-permanence of praise and empty accolades.
If this isn't your new favourite album for this year then it won't be far from it, or your money back*.
*Not a real guarantee.