Our Daily Bread 527: The Difference Machine ‘Unmasking The Spirit Fakers’

July 13, 2022

ALBUM REVIEW
MATT OLIVER

The Difference Machine  ‘Unmasking The Spirit Fakers’
(Full Plate) – Out Now

“Criticise me from a safe place, when you never had the courage to keep up the same pace”

Unmasking the Spirit Fakers sounds righteously, overzealously put through an 80s keep-it-real mouthpiece, though its sourcing from a Harry Houdini essay does complement Chuck D’s pronouncement of ‘no more music by the suckers’ perfectly. Fundamentally it goes for a hip-hop trope old as time itself and still one of 2022’s causes for concern – separating the authentic from the phony.

Their description as a ‘psychedelic hip-hop group from Atlanta’ doesn’t do The Difference Machine much of a service. These underdogs hide in plain sight: though the opening and closing tracks evoke burnt out rock star imagery in the last throes of the limelight (or another Public Enemy reference, ‘Do You Wanna Go Our Way???’), The Difference Machine’s reshaping of long-haired prog rockisms, is more about achieving the optimum volume to get foundations crumbling (first thought of comparison – Flatbush Zombies). For psychedelic, read a vivid shock to the senses, playing out a bad trip, Strawberry Fields becoming killing fields. On one hand you’re prompted to “take a step inside the mind of man with no time to lose” – the reality is when you’re told to “get behind the wheel and drive with no fucking fear”.

Drum welts and gut-punching synths introduce ‘Atlantis’ and producer Doctor Conspiracy, with the bit immediately between the teeth of emcee Day Tripper. Positioning himself in the eye of the storm as smoke bringer #1 (“never thought that black cloud would hover over me”), the prevalent, what’s-the-worst-that-could-happen mentality has evolved from the band’s first albums The Psychedelic Sound of The Difference Machine and The 4th Side of the Eternal Triangle, both of which made more of a jangly, moptop sound delivering Edan-feedbacked zingers. Those faking the spirit behind the peace signs have obviously tipped The Machine over the edge, DT grinding magical mystery tours to a halt (okay, the ghostly melodies of ‘Flat Circles’ appear to put the Ark of the Covenant up for grabs), by spitting with kerbside, high stakes amplification, armed with jagged book smarts, and numbness as an essential power-up. A distrust viewing everything and nothing as real, reaches the conclusion that it’s best to “fuck a half full-half empty, fill the whole cup”.

Four tracks in and DT is playing the last action hero in sweat-stained vest, brushing off chunks of shrapnel. Sure ‘Car Key’ lies on a bed of sitars and flower power, but Day Tripper’s savage stick-up shtick – “this your last chance before these bullets tap dance across your face like scatman” – is not for dressing in tie-dye. Humble enough to reveal “it all came to me one day rapping in the shower” before Denmark Vessey jumps in, DT shows his hustler’s mentality matches the next man on ‘Huckleberry Finn Day’ (“I sacrifice comfort for wonder, I sacrifice slumber for numbers”); and, like all defender of the universe appointments, a sliver of vulnerability is seen seeping under the armour.

Whereas ‘Repeater’, an epic, can’t stop-won’t stop rumble with Sa-Roc guesting (“got a cheat code embedded within me that’s infinite”) arms the charges into combat, the scuzzy ‘It Ain’t’ is where all thoughts tangle into a fiery stream of consciousness, caught wondering whether not giving a fuck is actually the safest option. The Quelle Chris-starring ‘Re Up’ is a rare simmer down, though still with nagging thoughts persisting as to riding the risk-reward seesaw. Perhaps the album’s crystallising moment is when on ‘Pulling Capers’, featuring a fed-up-as-he-gets (which never sounds quite right) Homeboy Sandman, DT nutshells his higher calling -“I ain’t ask to be a rapper, rap asked me with a dagger to my throat”.

After 38 minutes of pressure, the engaging cult of the Machine continues. It’s an interesting dynamic, of DT blazing out on his own with Doctor Conspiracy’s production acting like a Foley stage. Without really sounding like a traditional DJ-MC combo, it’s to Conspiracy’s credit that DT (dare it be said, at times channelling the new king of Glasto) sounds like he’s the figurehead for a whole squad of Max Mad musicians, rather than an MPC twisted inside out. Also marking a slightly more hard-nosed departure for Full Plate (whose entertaining acts Dillon, Batsauce and Paten Locke always do well on these pages), The Difference Machine rock cores with their unrest soundtracking the here and now – the days of the sucker are numbered.

AUTHOR MATT OLIVER: Sometime Clash site contributor, dance, electronic and hip-hop expert Matt has been offering up his wisdom and recommendations on the best rap cuts for the Monolith Cocktail for the last six years. You can find out more about his extensive writing portfolio and professional practice here.

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