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Sound Advice: Stark Raving by Coleman Hell

Weird lyrical digressions, big choruses, and spacey beats make it hard to hate on the new mixtape from Thunder Bay transplant Coleman Hell.

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We weren’t really sure what we were going to think of Stark Raving, the new mixtape from Thunder Bay–born, Toronto-based MC/singer/producer Coleman Hell. The fact that his initial videos had people referring to him as “hipster rap” made us wary, and the fact that he sometimes spells his name with a witch-house triangle made us downright skeptical.

Thankfully, the whole experience turned out to be a pretty nice surprise. Stark Raving is a fun, incredibly catchy album that manages to be both poppy and a little bit challenging. It’s hard not to be intrigued by Hell. He moves from staggering arrogance to massive self-doubt and back again, and seems to be permanently heartbroken.

It’s worth noting that Hell isn’t necessarily a good rapper in the traditional sense—although he’s not bad either—but he is interesting. There aren’t a ton of rewind-worthy, mind-blowing punchlines of the sort that get rap nerds excited. Instead, there are a series of meandering digressions that probably shouldn’t work, but somehow do. If you had to compare Hell to a better known MC, it would be Heems, formerly of Das Racist, but with fewer jokes and more feelings. “Chasing Amy,” a song about a straight man with a crush on a lesbian, is a perfect example. It ends with Hell referencing both Crispin Glover and Friday in a desperate attempt to win over the object of his affection. (You can listen to “Chasing Amy” by clicking on the sample, above.)

With a couple more up-tempo exceptions, most of the production on Stark Raving could more or less fit under the somewhat nebulous cloud-rap umbrella. It’s pretty, spacey, ethereal, and minimalist.

If Hell has one stand-out skill, it’s an ability to create memorable hooks. The choruses for “Killing Time” and “Beer Cans” have been stuck in our head for days now. If Coleman Hell winds up hitting the pop charts, which feels sort of likely, it will be the choruses that put him there.

Stark Raving costs you nothing, and delivers a hell of a lot. Downloaded it now so you can say you were into Coleman Hell before he was cool.

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