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In the Canadian milieu of much-heralded artists like The Weeknd and Drake, Winnipeg-based, hip-hop family outfit, The Lytics–comprising members Ashy, Munga, Andrew, B Flat, and DJ Lonnie Ce–get in the eclectic mix with their first full-length release, They Told Me. Coming on the heels of their self-titled 2010 EP, this thirteen-song effort captures a more developed band–closely matching the contours of their soul-searching moment:

“Been in the basement, many great years / Six plus eight years / Crying fake tears for MC’s that never made it / They never contemplated that they need to elevate their state of mind if they wanna be great…”

The opener, “Dear World,” is a mellow track with trumpet and xylophone riffs enhancing the atmospheric setting which it creates. The mid-song change-up is nice, too, and already, we can see glimpses of how good this group can be. The track ends with a trumpet soloing over the initial beat–which then surges back and as it ends, a short keyboard solo is introduced that flows seamlessly into the album’s apex, “The Sequel.”  On this track, the Lytics make a statement – and a huge one – that they’re back.  The jazzy highlight features perfectly placed horns – in short fanfares – that add considerably to the track’s beauty.  This standout brings to mind the likes of Slum Village and Jneiro Jarel, and presents the Lytics at their greatest – and most complete – on the release.

Then comes “Toot Your Own Horn” – our first peak into the sound that will crowd a great deal of the album.  This synth-heavy track has a heavy drum n’ bass presence to it, and would be a definite top-10 hit if it was Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga doing it.  Though this gives the listener a short glimpse of what’s to come later in the LP, the reflective, “They Said,” is a cool and serene track that brings the album back to the vibe that was originally expected after two tracks in.  This sublime highlight features dreamy guitar strums and a tranquil chorus with adlibs that meshes perfectly with each member’s delivery on the song.  This cut will be the last of its kind for a while, and is probably the group’s finest moment – lyrically – on the entire record.

“Ring My Alarm” is a hard-hitting, straight-ahead number that’s hyped with abbreviated snare-licks and a more aggressive delivery than presented before.  The track is satisfactory, and its effect-filled guitar and roughly-sung hook aids its brilliancy. The percussive and 70’s-ish “On Top” features – like most of the album – a sung chorus. Sung in a falsetto it works from the moment it comes in but irritation may set in heavily by the song’s end.  “Ready”–apparently the group’s “ready for stardom” track–magically morphs them from worthy successors to People Under the Stairs into a sickly version of the Black Eyed Peas.  How did the Lytics go from battle warnings of “Ring My Alarm” to the massive cheesefest presented here?  The song is, frankly, horrible, and will only draw interest from suburban teenagers.  The mod-like, “Stay Calm,” is a composition that’s severely catchy; and even though it sounds like the music of a made-for-TV feature on the Disney channel, the group’s effort is merely acceptable, the result adequate.

The urgent, “Charles Bronson,” favors a hypothetical, lost collaboration between The Roots and Pharrell.  It’s not a great track like say, “The Sequel.” But it is a step back in the right direction after the skinny jean trade show that just took place bits ago.

“Drown Me Out” (sigh); “Drown Me Out” is about perseverance in the midst of hardships and criticism.  The problem here isn’t the content, but once again the “Hello Kitty” production and terrible hook.  “Can We Run Away” is a poppy – but mellow – number about escaping the everyday stresses by running away in the middle of the night with a girl, unbeknownst the everyone else.  The song’s bouncy synths and layered vocal harmonies fit the track’s ambience superbly.  “Voices,” and the album’s finale, “It’s Over,” are two moderate tracks that concludes They Told Me reasonably; both are modest filler tracks in the project’s grand view.

“Grab up your jackets and finish your beers / You don’t have to go home, but get the hell outta here.”

The cornball spurts are too pronounced for this project to have been as good as it could have been.  And as time progresses, more singing and pop sounds occur, propelling this album from one sound to its polar opposite. A schizophrenic mélange of pop and rock dealings crowd this hip-hop album (“hip pop” is probably a better term for this presentation); and where three tracks – the aforementioned “Dear World,” “The Sequel,” and “They Said” – are exceptional statements, they create the “first world” dilemma of being too good for the bulk of the release.

Setting aside any initial disappointment of being misled by the highlights – and due to sequencing, they make up three out of the first four tracks – may allow for a more open-minded listen, and thus, the project’s multivalence might be better appreciated.  No one can subtract anything from the effort’s production quality and the group’s relevant, positively-charged messages (the technical part and the content are both solid); however, the band’s lack of a consistent sonic identity scatters They Told Me, and an unified field theory never develops, musically speaking.  If anything, this effort is more of a showcase of the Lytics’ versatility than a conceptual undertaking.

-Julius Thompson

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