It may only be early June, but it's official: summer is here. As the weather turns hotter and the days stretch longer, upbeat pop music finds its way into poolside playlists and road trip soundtracks, so in a way, it's unfortunate that Group 1 Crew's third album Outta Space Love won't be releasing until September leaves warmer days behind. But that's where their new digital EP Spacebound comes in, a five song preview of their upcoming project that offers a little something to get through the season while marking a new phase in the Orlando trio's career.
This group's blend of hip-hop elements, pop leanings, and danceable beats adds up to a history that can most quickly be summed up in in four words: Christian Black Eyed Peas. Of course, that's only a surface comparison, but for better or worse, everything about their newest music, from the mix of rappers with a strong female lead to the funky rhythms and auto-tune flourishes, sounds quite similar to their mainstream counterpart's mega-hits from last year. And much like BEP's evolution from indie hip-hop to Top 40 staple, G1C's music has shifted along similar lines, their newest work built around accessible dance-pop party anthems that would feel just as at home on the dance floor as they would blasting out a car stereo on the way to the beach.
The opening track "Live it Up" kick-starts the EP with minimal synth beats and auto-tune laden harmonies before it launches in to a full-on party jam. It's basically a song about, well, having fun on the weekend. "Thank God it's Friday and it's 3pm" are the first words that set the tone for the songs to follow... not exactly deep poetry, but an undeniably catchy start that sets the pace for the rest of the EP.
Spacebound's best moments are found in the middle, starting with its most beautiful offering, "Walking on the Stars." This song builds and soars musically with some nice interplay between the vocalists, and Blanca Reyes' passionate singing especially shines, bringing wonderful balance to the album. Next up is "Manipulation," a high-energy club track that would feel right at home on any dance floor. It's the heaviest and fastest song of the bunch, and it showcases the rapping skills of all three members between driving choruses and almost chaotic tempo changes. Though opposites in style and delivery, these two tracks showcase the best of the new songs and a good bit of versatility.
Two more songs round out the EP, but don't quite deliver the same. "Breakdown" is another cool dance track with a memorable hook, but somehow it doesn't seem as fun as "Live it Up" or "Manipulation." Then there's "Beautiful," a song that arguably has the best lyrical message and a sweet, poppy sound that's reminiscent of classic Group 1 Crew. The lyrics encourage girls to see themselves as beautifully made by God, and Blanca's voice is great as always, but the chanting chorus of "I'm beautiful, so beautiful" and rap checklist of good girl qualities in the bridge is cheesy enough to wear thin rather quickly. It's a stark difference in sound to the driving energy of the earlier tracks, and perhaps that's why it doesn't end things on the strongest note.
In spite of a misstep or two, Spacebound is a decent entry into the summer season, and worth checking out for G1C fans eager for new music. The tight production and current sound fits right in with the mainstream's chart-topping styles, and "Manipulation" especially could stand on its own as a possible crossover club hit. Time will tell if the rest of Outta Space Love will continue in the vein of Top 40 radio fads or delve deeper into the substance hinted at in "Walking on the Stars," but will the trendy styles hold up when summer has faded? Hard to say, but in the meantime, at least it's a fun ride.
- Review date: 6/6/10, written by Jen Rose of Jesusfreakhideout.com