Dark Time Sunshine “LORE”: Not Your Older Brother’s Backpack Rap.

Dark Time Sunshine is a hip hop duo consisting of emcee Onry Ozzborn (Michael Sean Martinez) and Chicago producer Zavala (Alexander Zavala).  They hail from Seattle, Washington, better known as the birthplace of grunge, the home of Tooth and Nail/Solid State Records, and a breeding ground for indie darlings.  Seattle has maybe never been name dropped in the history of rap music.  Its most famous artists are Sir Mix-A-Lot and Macklemore, who are now mostly played at weddings and high school dances.  But it is also home to lesser known but arguably more artistic groups like Shabazz Palaces and Blue Scholars. 

Dark Time Sunshine’s newest Album LORE dropped on February 4th of this year, nine years after their last album Anx was released.  And they are a difficult group to pin down.  Often described as “alternative hip-hop” (whatever that means), they probably fall under the category of ‘backpack rap,’ while at the same time are very different than most of their independent compatriots.  The instrumentals consist largely of incidental synth notes played over a low-key bass line, with little in the way of melodic hook to speak of.  The synth tone in LORE is eerie and droning, reminiscent of 70s horror synth masters like Goblin and John Carpenter, or with the flavor of Kyle Dixon and Michaels Stein on the Stranger Things soundtracks, minus the Upside-Down and nostalgia trip.  By itself, the synth/bass combination would be unsettling and sparse.  However, Zavala programs some absolutely bombastic drum parts.  The beats seem to change with every measure and sometimes jazzy, sometimes recall 90’s house music, and definitely demand close attention.

Ozzborn then delivers a striking contrast to Zavala’s sparse-at-times production, providing melody through his rhyming, which is not singing but offers up the hooks to hang on to.  Lyrically, LORE’s themes center around searching for happiness and the drive to become better.  And yet unlike the sunshine pop of Macklemore, the words address the challenges of striving for these things while also living in the reality of struggle.  Ozzborn sets the stage for the rest of the album on the title track “Lore” when he raps “We bringing smiling back, we bringing happy back, we bringing laughing and living a little back, but most of all we bringing love back, and that’s facts,” with the forward looking certainty of the refrain: “Accept pain, breath again, we won’t break so easily my friends, accept change, live again, we won’t break so easily my friends.”

These themes of wanting something better while also struggling with reality are exposed in songs like “Ritalin” which wrestles with the relationship between medication and happiness, and “The Rite Kids” which addresses the precarious process of growing up, with phenomenal guest verses from R.A.P. Ferreira and Homeboy Sandman, who pens “So let’s break bread and look ahead, no shouts to the “in” big shouts to the instead, spreading love’s the only way to get street cred.”

Perhaps the most powerful track on the album, “Hell Nah” speaks to the trauma of wanting kids when your body just can’t and raising children without the certainty of knowing what may come.  The verses are heartbreaking, but the chorus lifts its own eyes up to the determination of the protagonist and the brightness of the future.  “And what a wonderful display of determination to make it out of hell, nah, flame emoji flame emoji seems you’re all safe and sound, yah, and what a wonderful display of determination to make it out of hell, nah, okey dokey hokey pokey it’s time I turn it also around, yah.” 

Dark Time Sunshine released a banger of an album earlier this year, which overlays a lyrical aspiration for hope on top of a musical unease.  Which, considering the time of the year in which it was released, was wholly appropriate and reflective of the larger culture, looking forward with hope to the end of the pandemic that overturned our world this last year while also still sitting nervously in the truth of the present.  LORE isn’t necessarily a comfortable listen, but repeated turns offer an exceptionally rewarding and cathartic journey through the realities of life in 2021 America.     

Check out LORE by Dark Time Sunshine at fakefour.bandcamp.com/album/lore. Follow them on Instagram.

-Alex Dye

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