Velvet Trench Vibes :: Opium Lounge :: ICM Records
as reviewed by Matt Tomer

"Opium Lounge" frustrates me to no end. I mean, talk about first impressions - how's for a 26-track debut with about as much a central theme as Pulp Fiction? In 79:44 (a whole 16 seconds before exceeding CD capacity), Velvet Trench Vibes split time sounding like underground heroes, MTV sell-outs, reggae-loving Rastafarians, alt-rock fans-on-the-side, and Spanish-speaking Pitbull wannabes. Multiple personality disorder on wax? It might be the closest thing. A mixtape disguised as your traditional longplayer? Certainly.

Look at you jumping to conclusions, Quebec natives Aspen and thatkidnero (fuck capitals) might be all over the place, but calling "Opium Lounge" as much as below average is a joke. Exceptionally messy and with a great deal of filler, it takes some digging, but underneath a layer of scattered guck, this is a very good album. Covering as much ground as they do, it's hard not to strike some oil.

But like they were indeed mining for beats, "Opium Lounge" is very hit-or-miss. While they express their inability to put a good concept to a hot beat, "Jambalaya" remains a great listen, and very much hit-worthy. Conversely, "Mista Dopeman" is just aggravating; wailing sirens pissing all over nasty snares. "The Break Up" is gorgeous with spaced out effects and subtle strings, but "MTL" is as annoying as the Fat Joe single it aspires to be (*cough* "Lean Back" *cough*). Adding to the disorganized feel, Velvet Trench Vibes make the mistake of jacking a number of beats, from Janet Jackson to Jay-Z and in between.

There are your fair share of "what the.." lines ("at the end of the day it's back to the suburbs, where every motherfucker try and prove that they tough first"), but Aspen and nero are generally mistake-free behind the mic. Mistake-free? Sure. Boring? Almost as much. With hip-hop's topical bases becoming increasingly covered, they do little to broaden the horizons, but they HAVE grasped the concept of over-exaggerated self importance: "Dude listen - you hatin' on me, God? Who isn't?"

In reality, nobody's hating on Velvet Trench Vibes. They've yet to stack the chips necessary for envy to set in, although much of "Opium Lounge" could definitely make up-and-comers jealous. "Bounce Rock Skate," with its Saturday Night Fever feel, is as smooth a track as any this year. "Cooling Water" is recycled club trash, but God knows with that T-Pain-esque voice alteration it's bound to push a few units. Still, it's hard not to skip the mindless, half-hearted angst that is "Fuck Everybody II," an unforgivable mistake that makes for the weakest song of the entire LP.

It was a nice favor letting buddy David Hodges star on his own track, but the Velvet Trench Vibes allow him to walk away with the best performance on the entire album and, coincidentally or not, over the best beat. "High School Girls" isn't just hilarious, it's brilliant. As Hodges' commentary on the post-adolescence blues, he expresses his frustration at underage chicks in clubs. What's more, he can't even get with them: "I used to run around screamin' 'where the bitches at ?' Now it's 'where the classy broads who love broke niggas at?"

Cutting "Opium Lounge" down to size would do it wonders; there's enough additional garbage to frustrate any listener. Seriously, guys - the Spanish on "Genocide" and "Zelbo E Cemento?" Just unnecessary. As a language it's beautiful; as a chorus over G-Unit's "My Buddy" it drives me crazy. Velvet Trench Vibes scatter their missteps like landmines over 26 tracks. As a listener, it might just take one finger on the "skip" button to keep from blowing up.

Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10

Originally posted: December 12, 2006