In the video for the new Smoke Noises' Tune "2000 Pounds," three rappers in fat suits come into frame. Images of cake, pizza and hot dogs appear as an insanely dope track plays. The video is as heavy as the title implies. The track is from Smoke Noises, the self-titled debut from a local hip-hop collaboration between the duo Smoke Screen and the solo artist Ghost Noises.
"What happened was Smoke Screen consists of Chemist [Tommy Sheridan] and Mooke [Rodney Mynatt] and Ghost Noises is a solo act, this dude Eric [Sarley]," rapper Tommy Sheridan explains in an interview. "So we'd kinda been in the same group of friends. We had worked with each other in the past and we came up with the idea to do a project together. It originally started as [Sarley] was going to do the beats and we were going to do the raps over it. As we were working on the project, [we realized] Sarley's also a rapper, so we wanted him also on the project. It turned into a full-length project with all three of us rapping on it. And that's pretty much how it happened."
Released last October by Alloy-X, the Smoke Noises debut is an endlessly hip and awesome record.
"We started out to do a project and it actually materialized this year," Sheridan says. "So it's kind of been in the making for a few years now, but this was the first year we were like 'OK, let's make it happen.'"
Featuring production from the members of Smoke Noises alongside Alloy-X co-founder Urbindex and others like b00Radley and Shade Cobain, the album contains a set of 10 brilliant tracks with clean and creative production. A strong representation of modern underground hip-hop, Smoke Noises offers indie-influenced weirdness and solid hip-hop beats, putting the group in a unique position within Cleveland's music scene.
"It's a funny thing because we prefer to do shows that aren't typically your hip-hop shows, you know," Sheridan says. "Hip-hop shows are fun, but last month we played as part of Genghis Con, the comic convention at the Beachland. John G, a legendary artist from Cleveland, selected us, Uno Lady, a solo act who does opera and loops her voice, and Two Hand Fools, which is a harder rock band. So it was interesting for us to sit on a bill with an opera act and a rock band. We tend to find ourselves in situations like that more often than not. And I think it's kind of a challenge for us. We're not sure how it's going to turn out doing stuff like that. These aren't such easy shows for us to play and it's more of a challenge for us."
The chameleon-like ability to blend in anywhere is one of the new album's strengths. Slow, heavy drums recognizably drive the track "The Basement" (featuring DJ ESO), but are modified just enough to make the song come off like an experimental electronic piece. Percussive clicks and thin, eerie synths decorate the track, making the tune seem like a weird composition disguised as a rap song. Following suit with "The Basement," the entire album plays as a great hip-hop record with elements of weirdness, allowing for casual listening or, for geekier types, a more intensive analysis.
The warped voices found on "Hold Up, Slow Up" are haunting; mixed with an intricate and interesting beat and minor-based harmonies, they provide the track with a good mix of emotions. The song is both up-tempo and somber. Beyond experimenting with hip-hop, the album's hard to pin down and it's all the better for it.
"This was going to be an EP and turned into a 10-track album," Sheridan says. "We kind of set out to make the type of hip-hop that we like, the more alternative stuff like Blu or Flying Lotus — wonky beat stuff. We're really big music nerds. All three of us love music. I have thousands of CDs, categorized by different genres, and they're all alphabetical. I'm really weird about it. [Sarley] is a really big vinyl head and [Mynatt] has lots of MP3s. We all love music so much that we set out to make a record that could fit on the shelf next to these people we love."
Merging expansive tastes into their music, Smoke Noises incorporate samples in elusive, interesting ways, creating a flawless connection between original and sampled content.
"[We use] a lot of samples," Sheridan says. "We like to take things from places where you wouldn't expect it. It's kind of right under your nose. I like to change it enough, where it's a common sample perhaps, but I just tweak it enough to where it kind of goes over your head. A notable one would be on the last Smoke Screen record, we had a song called 'Blur' and the drums were from a Plain White Tees cover of 'Song 2.' So it was just different enough to where it wasn't like Blur's 'Song 2.' But, I mean, we called the song 'Blur' and people didn't even understand why.
"There was one blogger that wrote about it," he continues, "and in the middle of what he wrote, he said, 'And it just dawned on me that this is a sample of "Song 2" by Blur.' We kind of hide it right in there where it's obvious. It's cool to be able to sneak Easter eggs in there of stuff that you like and it's kind of obvious but not noticeable."
As a merging of talents and interests, Smoke Noises is undoubtedly a successful venture musically. Fortunately, they've found an audience and their increasing popularity has made future Smoke Noises albums something to consider.
"We set out to make a record that we liked and it just turned out that other people are gravitating to it as well, which is just a bonus," Sheridan says. "We made a record that we really wanted to make and it's just cool that people actually like it. We did it just as friends and the response is so good that it'd be kind of dumb not to do another album, so I think that's where we're at.
"In 2014 for sure, we're going to do a new Smoke Screen record and Ghost is going to do a new Ghost Noises record as well," he continues. "Shit, we'd love to get together and do another one. We're already kicking around ideas for it."
The show at the Grog Shop will be a sort of CD release party for the group. Even though the album's been available online on Bandcamp since October, physical copies of the album will be available for the first time.