Unlike many hip-hop releases, in which the MC is presented as a solo artist with a faceless beat-maker sitting in their shadow, Tell Them It’s Winter feels like a true collaboration, despite Ed Scissor’s name being on the cover. The partnership that Ed has had with Glaswegian musician Lamplighter has been this way since their debut work, Better. Luck. Next. Life, made huge waves back in 2012, and since then they have grown to become an unstoppably creative union, each a true individual talent and together a breathtaking force.
To call Lamplighter’s music merely hip-hop beats would be an unforgivable insult. The instrumental element of every track on Tell Them It’s Winter is a slice of dark, minimal electronic music in its own right, cinematic in scope and all-encompassing in atmosphere. At some points, the rhythm of the track comes from unexpected, left-field sources which the human brain can piece together as representative of a kick drum or a snare (like ‘TTIW’s clattering, metallic snare sound), and yet there are also more organic sounds underpinning many of these brooding soundscapes. String samples, sombre acoustic guitar motifs and even the occasional scrambled voice permeate throughout, more frequently than on the pair’s previous outings, combining to craft a largely restrained but always engaging backdrop for Scissortongue’s bars.
Edward Scissortongue is also in a class of his own, even amongst his impressively talented High Focus label-mates. His consistently and recognisably abstract style has always been layered with a sense of relatability, in a confusingly unrelatable way. Ed’s gift is in making it feel like you know the story he is telling you, or even that you know him personally as the storyteller, and yet keeping the content completely intangible and the metaphors so impenetrable and conceptual that the true meaning is near impossible to decipher. Everyday stories of nameless ‘he’ and ‘she’ characters are bound so inseparably to philosophical musings and ideas that the listener is made to feel simultaneously empathetic and detached, and the whole disturbing experience is wonderfully emotionally enthralling.
Some brave moves have been made on this album. Some tracks stretch to around the 10 minute mark, but rather than dragging, epics like ‘Light Round Here’ merely allow Ed’s linguistic tapestries to be given the detailed lifespans that they fully deserve, with Lamplighter’s captivating, haunting scores matching every step of the veiled narrative. Though Ed’s bars have never been about flashy rhythms, tracks like ‘Grandzeen’ and ‘Week’ stray closer to pure spoken word than most rappers would dare, the former accompanied by hazy, freeform piano and the latter an album highlight and a true showcase of both men’s talents.
Edward Scissortongue’s releases are always a great many shades darker both lyrically and musically than almost anything else on the hip-hop circuit, but with Tell Them It’s Winter he seems to have taken his Lamp(lighter) and journeyed further down into the disturbing depths, to devastating effect. ‘Any Infrastructure’ is almost tear-inducing in its darkness, and even the rare, surprisingly direct chorus of ‘The Dust Don’t Lay’ does not settle the unease that hangs thick above this release. Mentions of drug use are frequent, but far from the all too common bragging found in much of UK hip-hop, Ed Scissor’s bars mention narcotics as part of gritty and bitterly unhappy tales.
By creating possibly the most immersive, emotive release to come out the UK hip-hop scene in Tell Them It’s Winter, Edward Scissortongue and Lamplighter have once again proven that their styles fit together like a hand into a black, velvet glove. But amongst all the darkness in life that this collection of songs describes, the album itself is a startling light.