- ALISON GREEN
Tremaine Johnson, the rapper and producer better known as Tree, hooked me long before I wrote about him for a Reader B Side cover feature. I’ve kept his mixtape Sunday School on repeat for months, thoroughly under the spell of its “soul trap” sound. Johnson has a knack for combining off-kilter samples and sparse drum patterns in a way that’s dissonant and strange but still melodic and soulful.
Johnson’s beat-making method is as simple as the percussive elements in his music. He samples songs from YouTube, then edits each one and tweaks its modulation till he finds the effect he wants; finally he adds the drumbeat. And he does it all in GarageBand. “I just do what I do,” he says. “Chop it up and put it in the columns.”
Sunday School flies in the face of listener expectations about contemporary sample-based hip-hop: discordant pileups sometimes threaten to disrupt any semblance of melody, but the finished product is improbably harmonious and pleasing. Sunday School rejects certain notions about how to make a good album while appealing to the idea of what makes an album good within its genre—an approach reminiscent of another great and criminally overlooked record released earlier this year, No Youth by California experimental-metal act Wreck & Reference.
Filled with rolling waves of feedback, scattered blastbeats, and heavy instrumental buildups, No Youth sounds like a brutal and brilliant metal album—but only sort of. There’s something slightly off about the music, which careens between claustrophobic gusts of noise and cavernous, serene melodic whispers—for one thing, the band doesn’t use stringed instruments.