Hip Hop is universal. It's more than a saying, it's the truth. Any doubters have to look no further than the Herd, an Australian Hip Hop outfit. A group made up of three MC's (Ozi Batla, Urthboy and Berzerkatron), and a host of musicians, the Herd is built on the foundation that American Hip Hop started, but has expanded from it in its type of sound and delivery. Drawing from a multitude of genres besides Hip Hop, "The Sun Never Sets" sounds completely different from anything in the American Hip Hop scene.
As such, American Hip Hop fans may have a little trouble getting into the Herd, but the small struggle is well worth it. Using instruments from guitars to accordions, "The Sun Never Sets" has a refreshing, honest sound to it that the lyrics reflect. I'm not very familiar with traditional Australian music, but the musical influence behind this record is something like soft rock. Nonetheless, the music has been blended into a Hip Hop format; the drums and snare present here is undeniably influenced by popular rap music.
This combination produces a unique combination of melodies and rhythms that makes "The Sun Never Sets" a very interesting listen. Songs like "Under Pressure" use spare guitar melodies and agile drums to make compositions that are downright soothing and, in this particular case, sad. Meanwhile, "Apocolyptica" goes for a much darker sound, and bouncy songs like "Effortless" bring out their lighter side. Most of the beats are very well done, and have subtle touches in them that make them last through repeated listens.
Lyrically, the Herd combines as many different themes as they do musically. The aforementioned "Under Pressure" easily stands out from the rest of the CD, a story about a child in a broken home told through the letters he writes to his grandmother. Many of their lyrics are playful, around a third of the album is devoted to a charming sort of silly storytelling. Most notable though, is their political, anti-military protesting. The evil that the military forces upon young men is a major theme of the album, particularly in their biggest hit, the Vietnam War tale "I Was Only 19":
"Sent off on a four-week long operation
where every single step could be your last one
On two legs, it was sort of living hell
Falling with the shells, war within yourself
But you couldn't let your mates down 'til they had you dusted off
So you closed your eyes and thought of something else
Someone yelled, "Contact!"
Another bloke swore
We hooked in there for hours then a god almighty roar
Then Frankie picked a mine, the day that mankind hit the moon
God help me... he was going home in June"
Combining their razor sharp political vision with strong, personal stories produces the most compelling music of the album. They seem to make their best music on their more political music, which adds to its feeling of importance. Even when they aren't trying to send home a specific point, all of their songs are extremely personal, centering on either themselves or a specific character, told both in third and first person. They're all compelling writers, so whether it's the outright drama of "Apocolyptica" or the rollicking "Long Lunch," the lyrics are a great draw in to the music. Nothing is exactly mind-blowing, but it's all engaging.
Unfortunately, the quality of the record isn't always at its best musically. While it's always interesting to hear the fusions of music, some of them just don't work very well. The album starts off with "Unpredictable," which seems to actually be based in Latin American or Spanish music, and its repetitive sound makes it a shockingly bad song to open the album with. Also, none of the music is exactly thrilling. "Apocolyptic" comes close, but the music relies on being melodic rather than powerful. That, in itself is fine, but there are times where the music stalls and the pace begins to wear on the listener. Lastly, the hooks are mostly rapped instead of sung, and the hooks on songs like "Unpredictable" can be almost unpleasant.
All in all though, "The Sun Never Sets" is a good listen. Lyrically, it's always compelling, and sonically, it is always at least a huge departure from the American Hip Hop scene. It is a little too long, but its best moments easily make up for its weakest. The Herd are completely unafraid to speak their mind, but do so without the pretentiousness so often attributed to so-called "conscious" Hip Hop. "The Sun Never Sets" may be a little hard for the average Rap fan to get into, but good music transcends cultural barriers, and this certainly is good music.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: June 5, 2007