The Cool Kids - When Fish Ride Bicycles

Posted July 14, 2011
Tags: The Cool Kids,

When the New England Patriots drafted Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft there...

When Fish Ride Bicycles Album Review

When the New England Patriots drafted Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft there weren’t many who thought he was destined for greatness, probably not even Brady himself. But he was lucky. Instead of being fed immediately to blitzing wolves he was forced to start at the bottom (behind such quarterback luminaries as Michael Bishop and John Friesz), spending more than a year studying and learning his position before being thrust into the spotlight. That rookie quarterback fresh from Michigan would have been destroyed, his confidence shattered, but his time on the bench made Brady unshakable and fully prepared to capitalize on every opportunity.

Except for the multiple Super Bowl rings and Brazilian supermodel wife, The Cool Kids are basically Tom Brady. When Chuck Inglish and Sir Michael Rocks first entered the game, on ‘07’s Black Mags, they were, true to their name, kids, wide eyed rookies who hadn’t yet even opened their hip-hop playbooks. And while the series of false starts and setbacks that would delay their official debut album, When Fish Ride Bicycles, must have been frustrating, there’s no doubt that they’re better for having waited. Instead of the one-dimensional kids they once were, the Chicago duo are now well-versed and versatile artists able to handle the pressure of a fourth-quarter touchdown drive major album release when the world’s eyes are on you.

The best track on When Fish Ride is, not coincidentally, the least traditionally Cool Kids track. While it holds to their minimalist stance, Gas Station’s beat has a soulfulness and subtle warmth that gives it an unexpected depth and while the lyrical contributions don’t hesitate to brag and boast, it’s full of the personal details and - wait, is that? Could it be? - yep, political commentary. It’s exactly the kind of song they wouldn’t or couldn’t have made in their early days and is the album’s most immediate proof of their growth. More proof arrives in the form of Penny Hardaway, which takes on touches of NYC boom-bap flavor that immediately makes sense once Ghostface Killah shows up. The only thing holding back Hardaway from perfection is a Lil Penny reference. (For the record, that’s two features, Bun B and Tony Starks, that would have been unimaginable back in ’07.) And I have to throw the brightly shining Swimsuits, which brings on retro-soul crooner Mayer Hawthorne for a summer anthem hook, into the new and improved Cool Kids sound that runs throughout When Fish Ride Bicycles. There’s a fine line between consistency and monotony, so while The Cool Kids’ style can, over the course of a project, begin to feel like a drone, these bursts of change keep When Fish Ride feeling fresh.

That’s not to say there’s anything broken about the music they were making before, or that they try to fix it on When Fish Ride. Lead single Bundle Up is a litany of Cool Kids-esque elements, from crunching bass to late ‘80s synths to choruses created to be yelled at live shows. Similarly, while Roll Call brings in a clean piano line, their refusal to ever stress or hurry a bar is classic Cool Kids, an attitude that creates an atmosphere for Asher Roth, Chip and Boldy James to put in equally relaxed work. And while the two collaborations with The Neptunes, Summer Jam and Get Right, might at first seem like big news, even a quick listen reveals that Pharrell and company are actually in many ways kindred spirits to the Kids, relying primarily on hypnotic rhythms to carry their beats. It’s worth noting that neither track are mega-hits in the usual Neptunes sense, and there’s no real indication here that Chuck and Rocks are capable of a mega-hit, but frankly that’s not particularly important. YC has a mega-hit and people will be playing When Fish Ride long after they’ve forgotten who did that Racks song.

So what lies ahead for The Cool Kids? Will they, like their NFL doppelganger, become perennial All-Stars, widely acknowledged as one of the best to every play their position, even as they adopt Justin Bieber haircuts and start modeling for Stetson? (Ok, maybe not those last two.) Honestly, at this point that kind of lofty praise is a stretch. But When Fish Ride Bicycles proves not only that their slow-rise ascent was (in retrospect) for the best, but that we can expect some legit longevity from Chuck and Rocks. Whether it’s by design or fate, patience always pays off. Who knows, in ten years we might just be looking at The Cool OGs.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted July 14, 2011
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