Serengetiʼs first solo album for Anticon finds him upbeat, on point and full of swagger. The multifaceted Chicago emcee streamlines his approach for Family & Friends, taking a breather from the knotty, introspective raps of his recent past, and making one of the most enjoyable, clear-headed records of his career. Itʼs a fresh look that features a couple of debuts as well. WHY? frontman Yoni Wolf is responsible for roughly half of the beats herein, while the rest come from by Advance Base, a.k.a. Owen Ashworth, officially marking the rebirth of the bedroom pop producer formerly known as Casiotone For the Painfully Alone. Over their just-right mix of spare musicality and lo-fi propulsion, Serengeti splits the difference between humor and moodiness, maintaining loads of style throughout.
Family & Friends kicks off with “Tracks,” where Geti paints a vivid portrait of a man whoʼs got nothing left to lose over Yoniʼs picked guitar, plinked piano and sawed violin. These parts are tracked live through the end of the song, not looped — a product of the week that the pair spent recording in Yoniʼs Oakland apartment in summer of 2010. The latter lends his familiar croon to the hook too, making a vocal return on the instant standout “Long Ears” — a low-riding slab of indie G-funk if there ever was one — and the more lush titular track, wherein Geti pens the official manual on manning up: “Sex all night/Drink like a real man/Change your own oil/Read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.” These two also meet up over another highlight, the hilariously sarcastic “California,” featuring a character so hopelessly out of touch that he seems heroic.
Getiʼs collaborations with Advance Base are peppered throughout, beginning with “PMDD,” a minimal pop tribute to a girl the rapper once saw in a pharmaceutical commercial. “Flutes” might be the duoʼs masterwork. Oddly recalling ʼ90s one-hit wonders Primitive Radio Gods, the song is both springy and bluesy, a playful ode to associative storytelling. Australian sister singers Hazel and Martha Brown of Otouto guest on “Ha-Ha,” a fantasy rap about finding true love at a Chicago hardware chain. (Advance Base is a local, with a home studio situated just a couple of train stops away from Geti.) And “A.R.P.” follows with its crystalline keys, and verses about everything from DMT to Mr. T. Advance Base also soundtracks Getiʼs most impressive lyrical display, “The Whip,” detailing the rise, downfall and eventual redemption of a UFC fighter.
That overcoming and escapism are two of the bigger themes here is hardly a surprise. Sure, those two things appear throughout Serengetiʼs oeuvre, but Family & Friends may embody them best. The album offers an alternate take on the hefty concerns that come with the day-to-day, but most importantly-- and all too often unlike its titular subjects--itʼs damn well easy to love.
* download card included with all vinyl orders of this release.