10th Letter's cosmic journey
'Corpus Animus' twists hip-hop and electro forms
Within the first moments of "Stand at the Threshold," the opening number from 10th Letter's sixth and latest self-released album, it's clear that Jeremi Johnson has delved deeper into electronic music's spiritual and psychological realms. Johnson's previous releases as 10th Letter have always colored outside the lines of hip-hop and electronic dance music's bombast — though both have played clear roles in carving the musical path that's guided him to the outer limits. Designing sounds that are rooted in the shadowy corners of both these disciplines is his strong suit, and with Corpus Animus Johnson pushes these tendencies into some far-out terrain.
Corpus Animus keeps a tight focus on the sonic elements that have always set 10th Letter's productions apart: nocturnal and serene tones and atmospheres and, most importantly, the expansive negative space that lies between each sound and all of the glorious opportunities it presents for one's imagination to roam.
Throughout such songs as "Dragon Float," "Land/Body/Sky," and "High Noon," Johnson gives a clear stylistic nod to Flying Lotus' exercises in turning discordant rhythms, field recordings, and textural sounds into spacey and elegant fuguelike moments. Only when these components are pieced together do they reveal all sorts of hidden beauty in the least likely of places.
Along the way, blank space itself is used as an instrument, parsing out the album's mood and its overall flow. This seems like a strange concept, but it's a style of musical construction that evokes such classic-era Pink Floyd albums as Wish You Were Here and Animals. But where Pink Floyd albums are swimming in nihilism, sentiments on the verge of mental breakdown, and catharsis, Johnson communes with the darkness to create an abstract narrative that's all about the human soul and its infinite longing for creativity.
To that end, "Vessel" functions as a counterpart to "Stand at the Threshold." Both songs take on some cinematic qualities in terms of musical scope. They also stand out as the musical thesis within Corpus Animus, providing the skeletal system for a seamless body of work.
There are 16 songs here, but with each hearing the zero-gravity motions of the music meld further into one flowing piece that twists and turns but never veers from its course.
As it all unfolds, a series of guest vocalists makes appearances to lift the music from the murky depths, only to let it sink back into the cosmic mire. Among them, Brea ("Blinding Silver Light"), and Johnson's Waking Astronomer band mates Saira Raza ("Vessel" and "Golden Meadow") and Afua Richardson ("Sword in the Stone"). Their voices are used here more as textural components. But "Soliloquy," featuring Anya Martinez, lies at the warm heart of the album.
It's certainly the album's most cohesive number, bringing everything to a fine point before the album slips back into the cosmos. Johnson's typically bold layers of percussion and deep, dark, machine funk factor as much throughout Corpus Animus as ever before. It's the subtlety in both sound design and the break from the forms of his primary influences that make this album 10th Letter's most far-reaching yet accessible release yet.