These past six years have been big for Ross Birchard, a.k.a. Hudson Mohawke. Since his first album Butter and his time as half of the music duo TNGHT, he’s gone on to produce music for artists under the GOOD Music label, most noticeably for Kanye West on his album Yeezus, and eventually signed with them as a producer. With the varying styles he’s explored in the past, one could only wonder where he would go for this second album.
As it turns out, Lantern is a natural progression for Birchard. The sound is still very trap and hip-hop oriented, with the usual electronic twist. The album shows a slightly toned down side to the Hudson Mohawke sound, with less crazy productions than his debut, and it feels like a real improvement when mixed in with some better production qualities. By lessening the onslaught of sounds in his production, it’s given his songs more room to breathe, which in turn leads to a better album.
The album does feature a few surprises though. Right after the introductory track, Very First Breath hits you with its booming drum beat and buzzing melody, mixing elements of R&B and trap together to make something that’s already perfect for radio play. While you can easily imagine a rapper on top of it, the choice to include Irfane does wonders for the song, with his distinct vocals adding a different feel to the song. Even stranger is Kettles, a song made entirely from samples that offers an extremely convincing orchestral performance. Without beats or vocals, and merely relying on the likes of flutes, strings, glockenspiel and a variety of other “instruments”, he makes something truly compelling that shows off a different set of skills entirely.
Aside from these, the album does retain a strong, familiar trap sound throughout. Scud Books mixes the orchestral style of Kettles with his trap sound to make something that mixes the best of both worlds, and comes out as one of the strongest on the album. Deepspace with guest Miguel takes its name very seriously with an otherworldly production that suits Miguel’s powerful voice perfectly. Ryderz takes a pitched D.J. Rogers sample and turns it into something more modern with its trap beats and string samples. With the other songs sprinkled in between, it makes for a varied album while still sticking to his strengths.
The only time it really gets anything wrong is with System, with its long introductory build-up suggesting something faster and lighter before moving into an entirely contrasting bass-heavy production and eventually repeating itself. Additionally, Lil Djembe aims to make a trap song more interesting with its strange melody but doesn’t really achieve much.
When an album has as many strong moments as this one, though, it’s easy to overlook a few flaws. Lantern will make trap fans very happy, and its electronic hip-hop is a step above what Birchard has given us before; if the album did indeed draw inspiration from his time with GOOD Music, it certainly helped. With the strong production throughout and some especially masterful additions with Very First Breath and Kettles, Lantern makes it easy to see why Hudson Mohawke has gained such major attention among his peers.