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Few Good Things Robert Barry , February 3rd, 2022 10:08

From Chicago's Pivot Gang, Saba brings the sunshine out on third album Few Good Things

Something must be happening in Chicago. Maybe it always has been. But when I listen to the new album by twenty-seven year-old west side rapper-producer Saba what I’m reminded of first is not so much any records by his immediate contemporaries in the US hip hop scene; more moments from recent albums by Jeff Parker and Ben LaMar Gay. It’s not so much the sounds you can actually hear on the record (although, every now and then…), but rather something about the bounce of it, that certain lilt it has, the feeling of light gleaming through the cracks between the notes. But not matter how many blocks of real estate might separate them on a map of the Windy City, isn’t odd that two scions from such a venerable, half-century old jazz institution as the ACCM and the hot kid from the cool young hip hop collective across town should seemingly be taking notes over each other’s shoulders? Things ain’t like that in London, at least.

Saba (né Tahj Malik Chandler) co-founded the Pivot Gang collective in 2012 with his brother Jerrel (aka Joseph Chilliams), cousin Walter Long (John Walt) and high school buddy Logan Yutters (MfnMelo). Their debut album as a group, You Can't Sit With Us was released in 2019 and acclaimed for its wit and its production chops. Meanwhile, Saba had already released two albums on his own, 2016’s Bucket List Project and 2018’s woozy, introspective Care For Me. From the rising strings and gently plucked arpeggios of opening track ‘Free Samples’ (featuring Cheflee), Few Good Things is immediately a different prospect. Reaching out, rather than caving in. It shines.

Saba’s production is loose, low-slung. He lets his samples slip and slide against each other, skittering and scattershot percussion breaks pile up slippily, like so many locked grooves on battery-powered turntables. Combined with a predilection for seventh chords on plucked strings and soft crescendoes of stacked soulful harmonies, it lends the record a sunny, 70s feel. It’s warm, rich, and playful. Which is not to say there is no bite here, no darkness. Single 'Fearmonger' broods ominously over trilling trap hi-hats and minor key synths. Third track ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ (featuring G Herbo) is a moody drill tune, complete with cinematic synth string stabs hovering menacingly in the background and an eerie old-timey organ line. But this is immediately followed by one of the sunniest moments on the record, ‘an interlude called Circus’, a meandering minute that is all smiles, lifted into shimmering euphoria by the bubblegum vocals of Chance the Rapper collaborator Eryn Allen Kane. The overall mood then is distinctly chill and pleasingly psychedelic. There’s enough space echo going on here to tranquillise a horse. Like cLOUDDEAD or Donuts, Few Good Things is one of the great bedroom hip hop records.