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Paul White’s standout production powers Open Mike Eagle’s latest LP

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B+

Open Mike Eagle and Paul White

Album: Hella Personal Film Festival
Label: Mello

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After developing a friendship with Hannibal Buress, forming notable hip-hop group Cavanaugh with like-minded MC Serengeti, and building an audience for his quirky podcast, Secret Skin, Open Mike Eagle has become a minor thing. That status makes him the focal point of the new Hella Personal Film Festival, a record that more than sufficiently showcases his talents—wry social commentary through snapshot-of-life vignettes, anxiety and self-awareness mixed with stream-of-consciousness irreverence, all delivered with a smooth and relaxed (if plodding) flow. But while Mike’s methods continue to deserve attention, the real standout of the album is collaborating beatmaker Paul White.

White’s been shaping his wonderfully eclectic, sample-heavy repertoire for years now, but it all comes together on Hella Personal Film Festival. Rather than narrow or consolidate his diverse influences, here White blends them into a fine grain, such that dreamy guitar noodling emerges from Kid-A-style electronics and morphs into old-school funk, or blippy 8-bit melodies, or piano ballads, or whatever else he feels like doing. It’s all pulled off in barely perceptible transitions, and where a little extra glue is needed to keep the bonds tight, White himself plays the layered-in instruments, along with pieces of wood and other sound-making objects he just happens to be messing with. Open Mike Eagle—whose own musical upbringing was in ’90s alternative, indie rock, and grunge—is fully comfortable accommodating this all-encompassing approach, adjusting his word choice and syncopation to disco grooves, tribal chants, and starry soft jazz.

Standout track “Insecurity,” for example, kicks up a summery, soulful dance rhythm that matches the light tone of Eagle’s plea for civility, which is reiterated by a closing audio clip of Lenny Bruce handling disruptive audience members. (Later, acid-synth-laced “Leave People Alone” ends with Doug Stanhope ranting against media fear-mongering.) Though the album’s few guest contributors don’t exactly add a lot—Aesop Rock spits for a few minutes on the conspicuously bland “I Went Outside Today,” a song no one seems to have invested much creativity in—props go to Open Mike Eagle for finding the right delivery and attitude suitable for each new endeavor. But stronger accolades go to White for crafting such a challenging and engrossing set of beats in the first place.