DJ Pawl, Windnbreeze and Alaska of Hangar 18 have spent much time giving impressive performances as openers for an immense list of artists. Even when they began touring snowboard festivals and opening for Gym Class Heroes, I’m sure their live act was fun and friendly. But as evidenced by the group’s second full-length, Sweep the Leg, Hangar 18’s stage-honed flow doesn’t work in a studio setting. On the whole, the album is strained, boring, and sometimes unlistenable.
The verses are incomprehensible, the hooks are forgettable, and the beats are derivative. Take “Watchyoself,” one of multiple genre-study flops; it’s a cautionary tale that simultaneously laments the media, friends on heroin, and knowing a kid who died in sixth grade. It’s hard for a suburbanite to pull off a dark, paranoid, high-quality piece of hip-hop, because keeping it real often means revealing enough to make you sound lame.
The beats don’t help. The drum-kit thinness of DJ Pawl’s production could, in other circumstances, be forgiven. When he embraces the Definitive Jux/backpacker aesthetic, there are some positive results. “Feet to Feet” shuffles slices of soul to create a warm, RJD2-esque head-nod. But ultimately we get constant attempts at icy Neptunes electro that fail every time. Pawl seems to lack the ear for what makes minimalist club hits so effortlessly catchy.
The main problem is that the members of Hangar 18 aren’t sure how to keep their good-natured, party-rap aesthetic fresh for thirteen tracks. On “Dance with Me,” one of the easiest tracks to handle, they go for pseudo-millionaire-club-rap, spitting tongue-in-cheek lyrics about females and champagne over ’80s TV-soundtrack synth lines: “She started talking ’bout her cats and ex-man/ That’s when I snatched her necklace and ran.” They can be funny, but their aspirations extend far beyond Paul Barman territory. In terms of a studio recording, it might seem they extend too far.