Last year, Florida hip-hop quartet Cyne left a pretty serious impression on me (and a few other writers) with their stellar album Pretty Dark Things. With its combination of challenging rhythms, vibrant samples and intellectual lyrics, Pretty Dark Things was an underground triumph. But it was also a pretty dark thing, a reflection of a crumbling country told through lines like “why can’t I coexist with ignorant assholes?” Sure, the group sounded pissed off and frustrated, but they funneled that angst into something truly stunning.
Just a year later, Cyne has compiled a vast, 21-song set titled Water For Mars, originally released in Japan in the spring. With its songs culled from recording sessions between 2004 and 2008, it represents a pretty broad period in the group’s career. In spite of its expansive presentation, it’s every bit as cohesive as its predecessor. And where Pretty Dark Things was a dark and sometimes chilly piece of music, Water For Mars is like its kaleidoscopic, summertime counterpart. Cyne still find numerous occasions to reflect on the same politically charged topics that informed their last set, but this time around, they’re backed by brighter, more upbeat sample beds. This sometimes comes off as an odd juxtaposition, but the execution is so flawless that even their angriest verses are still fit for poolside consumption.
As Cyne kick off first track “This Year,” they immediately unleash a flood of positivism and good vibes. Its funk sample is irresistible, its optimism infectious—the group hits it out of the park on the first try. Followed by 20 more tracks, it’s the first peak of several, which come at a steady pace. “Pretty Apollo” sets the bar even higher, coasting on rollerdisco beats and even more feel-good lyrics: “follow tomorrow/ grasp on the heels of Apollo/ ride that wave to the cosmos.” It’s a refreshing song that’s both a furious jam and a mood enhancer. “Cise,” presumably named for the emcee, is one of the most head-spinning tracks, thanks to its spaced-out synthesizer hooks, while “Fall Through Atlantis” pairs courtship with references to Jeezy and Weezy.
The positive vibe subsides on the icy, cosmic “Find Away,” marked by its chilling lines such as “God is just a figurehead” and “finger on the button and we waitin’, waitin.’” On “Wolf Blitzer,” producers Speck and Enoch go electro, sounding more like Prefuse 73 than Dilla, although the crackly piano of “The Jux” is just the reverse of that. And the twinkly “Boombox Pimp” is three minutes and 43 seconds of boom-bap sunshine, which gets extra points for “up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-B-A-select-START!”
It’s fairly astonishing that Cyne is capable of maintaining such consistent freshness throughout Water For Mars, though its last quarter is mostly made up of remixes (which are, unsurprisingly, pretty damn good). Exhausting as it may be, the album never grows dull, and even at its lesser moments still deserves a seat in hip-hop’s honors class. Whether viewed as a compilation or a cohesive album, Water For Mars is a dazzling listen, and shows the Sunshine State quartet at the top of their game.
MP3: “Pretty Apollo”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.