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It's been a year since I released Misanthrope, my debut 10-song, 35-minute-long instrumental hip hop album. Tens of thousands of people downloaded it for free from this site directly. Thousands more purchased it through iTunes or Amazon. Even more streamed it through the countless streaming sites I put it on. It's one of my favorite things I've ever created, and I can't thank my audience enough for listening to it and loving it. Here is a track-by-track breakdown of how the album was made, and what it means to me. If you've heard the album a hundred times, I hope you can keep hearing something new in it. If you've never heard it before, today is the perfect day to begin. Thanks for listening.





misanthrope
The title track for an album has to immediately set the tone for the entire ride, and the biggest struggle for this song was establishing the first sound somebody would hear when pressing play. Misanthrope never saw a physical release, but I wanted to treat the album like it did -- and that warm, futuristic laser beam sound that the title track starts with when somebody first slides the CD into their car stereo or drops the needle on vinyl was really important to me. I legitimately toiled over it for weeks, and tried probably 50 different intros before settling on the one I choose.

From there, I wanted to really put the stamp down that this was an instrumental hip hop record. I knew the drums throughout the album would cement that, but the chopped vocal sample of me saying the album and track title both solidified the genre and invited listeners to the table. The funky, almost off-key horns were an attempt to solidify my hip hop roots further, since I grew up on horn-sample-heavy songs from artists like Pete Rock, A Tribe Called Quest, and The Beastie Boys -- and this was my nod to them.





it's payday, mr. jopeck
This song is probably the fullest mix of my influences in one place, and it's also probably the most subtle about it. As for the title, Mr. Jopeck is Charlie Bucket's boss in the original 1971 "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" film. It was one of my favorite movies growing up, and the song title is a direct quote from the film when Charlie -- a broke kid living in a shack with five adults -- finally gets a few crumpled bucks from his boss after weeks of selling bread in the streets for him. You give a little something to somebody who has nothing, and you can create a revolution... or a monster. Some of the most powerful movements in the world were started by people in that exact situation.

The line about "rekindling your will to live" was a vocal sample I chopped from the 1972 film Silent Running, because it went perfectly with the theme. It was sort of serendipitous that I happened to watch that film during the making of this track. Misanthrope was always a sci-fi 36 Chambers or Illmatic to me. The vocal samples were definitely Wu-Tang-inspired.

Fun fact: Voice actor Troy Baker was one of the first people -- outside of my very tiny circle of trust -- that I played this song for. I originally wanted him to sing on it, but that didn't come together due to time constraints. In retrospect, having such an early song on the album featuring full vocals might have been misleading for the direction of the rest of it, so I'm happy with it the way it is. I'll work with Troy on other stuff anyway!





dial tone
Dial Tone was the first song I completed from Misanthrope, and I absolutely built a lot of the record around it. It's triumphant, but still paranoid and fucked up. It's got this really proud swagger to it... but then totally gets its head in the clouds halfway through, and launches to space. My dad had a name for people who were brain-dead idiots -- people who weren't conversationalists or weren't interesting, even if they meant well. "He's a nice guy until you try to talk to him. What a fucking dial tone." He'd call me that name sometimes when he'd see me playing video games all day. I think it's a great insult, even if phones don't even have dial tones anymore.

I love the pianos on this song, because I first played them that way by mistake and decided to just run with it. That's an old Jimi Hendrix trick: If you play the wrong notes, play them again so they sound intentional. I love that idea.





misery loves companies
There was this amazing influx of southern rap influence over NYC production, which was hitting the hip hop scene just as I was getting ready to move away -- double-time hi-hats and sparse bass drums and kicks. New York rappers grabbed that and ran with it, but they also coupled it with those old Run-D.M.C. drum sounds so that it had that southern bounce... but that NYC grime. I wanted to sort of flex that same balance, but as the score for a sci-fi film that didn't exist. This is probably the "thickest" track on the record because of that, with tons of synths and bass sounds and at least a dozen samples from old low-budget spaghetti sci-fi films.

Ironically, the crazy high-pitched synth at the end was inspired by old west coast hip hop. For a while, there wasn't a song that came out of the Dre and Snoop camp that didn't have that sound. I threw that style in there as the climax to the track, so that my NYC, ATL, and L.A. hip hop influences could team up on the same track.





break you down
This track is the album splitting itself in half. It's the machine shutting down and starting back up again, bridging the gap between the front and back parts of the record, and making one giant mass. Production-wise, it's the sparsest track on Misanthrope; it builds up and tears down, but it never really launches towards an apex the way most of the other songs do. That took a lot of restraint on my part. There are cutting room floor versions of this song that transition in wildly different ways in the outro... but I love the one I landed on, because it's a needed break in the context of the album.





let's try this again
A few people caught this, but this track is where the album pretty much restarts itself. That ambient sound chopped at the beginning felt like a weird morning to me -- just waking up on a weird planet and not knowing what the fuck was going on. Hence the "Is anyone here?" vocal sample. Let's Try This Again is both complex and kind of rickety in its construction, with tons of buildups and teardowns, and a funky organ solo in the middle of it. It's a really playful song, without being too sinister.





one A.M.
I almost cut this song from the album about 50 times. "It's... really different than your other stuff" is what most people told me when they heard it. It's got this middle-of-the-night spy theme feel for the first half, plus some gunshot sounds from GoldenEye on it. But then halfway through, it drops everything and becomes an ode to old video game soundtracks and chiptunes. The song builds and builds, but when Thomas Rakowitz comes in with his guitar solo, it just sends the song to skies. I never could have replicated what he did for this song on my own. I actually bought a guitar before I started writing songs for Misanthrope -- and once I found Thomas, I sold it. There was absolutely no need for me to ever pick it up again with him in the world.

There's this human element that he conjures with his guitar that I just love. It never sounds like he's playing a riff that he'd play anywhere but right there on the song we're collaborating on, every time I work with him.





silver shank
Fuck, this song is dark. It's kind of a big "fuck you" to everyone who heard One A.M. and said "What a wonderful, happy song! Make more like it!" It's just really deranged. It's a reckless gang of monsters destroying an entire city block for fun. When I asked Thomas to do his thing here, I pretty much wanted to drag a devil out of him. I remember telling him to "just go fucked up B.B. King," and he delivered. He does this really plucky start/stop thing with his solo, which I wasn't sure about at first -- but I eventually grew to absolutely love.





if you need me i'm gone
The penultimate track on Misanthrope was originally planned to be the finale. That's probably why it's the longest song. I have a tendency to make three or four "last songs" when I'm working on a project, because I feel like you can make a record sound more powerful when several songs could potentially close it. The intro pianos on this song took me a month. That's not hyperbole: They took a fucking month. I started them on a trip to NYC, dragged them with me to L.A., and finished them back in San Francisco. I could never play them live... or probably ever play them again in any capacity, actually. They're cold and kind of sad notes, but they get this sly, jazzy smirk to them later on when the synths follow in to complement them. The countdown toward the end almost ended the whole record. I liked the idea of ending it all like that.

Then I started to wonder what Thomas could do. He woke the fucking dead on this song. That little tear his guitar does before the drums come back is my favorite part of the whole song.





take it all
There are only two vocal samples that came from my own voice on the entire Misanthrope album, and both of them are heavily modified. The first is me saying "Misanthrope" on the title track, and the last is the high-pitched vocal singing on "Take It All." This song was my take on Nas' "The World Is Yours" off of Illmatic, only far more apocalyptic. There's this screeching car crash sound on this track that took me a while to create, where the song sort of explodes but then keeps going. I love that shit. That, coupled with the drum rolls and fluttering horn and siren sounds, was me really trying to make my mark. To me, the final song on Misanthrope needed to be upbeat and inspirational, like one last push or fight. It felt like the perfect place to say goodbye with music. Well... for now, at least.



~ Brian Altano - December 10, 2014 ~

distributed by Geekbox Media