One of the more covert success stories of the last few years has got to the be that of Clams Casino. Low-key electronic vibes that sit right in the thick of night, and before you know it you’re linked with the likes of Kanye and Bey. There’s no doubt that Clams can produce the fuck out of something for a major, but for any producer like him there remains the question mark over how far he can fly solo.
It’s a mixed bag on 32 Levels, not exactly helped by the images that title conjures up. It brings up the notion of an arduous climb, or wading into a depth, or even a video game slog that still might leave a boss battle at the end. Arguably, even though the album starts with strong features from Vince Staples on All Nite and Lil B on Witness, by the end of it we’re still waiting for that boss battle of our own, that showstopper that really makes the toil worth it.
The thing is that, for the most part, what Clams offers here has been done before, and better, and done so by his own hands. So while the rap features don’t rise beyond the standard, when he goes out of his scheduled comfort zone – taking on lighter vibes with Sam Dew‘s Thanks To You and employing Wet‘s Kelly Zutrau for Back To You – there’s a sense of refreshment even if the results are mixed. The latter in particular seems too rigid in its production, too lurching and unable to match the dynamism of its vocalist, but the former seems like a long-term musical marriage waiting to happen.
The closest thing we do get to our boss battle does, of course, come from the infallible Kelela. On A Breath Away, by far the album’s centrepiece, she highlights just how special a collaboration with Clams can be, as both bring out the best in each other for a sense of dramatic, potent electronic R&B. More of that in future ought to see Clams rise even higher – not that he’s exactly starving for work as it is, but a bit more tightening of his own work could see a level-up beyond even his own dreams.