Review: Panacea, “The Scenic Route”

The Scenic Route

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

True to its name, the music of Panacea has an opiate smoothness. It’s bright and melodic in a way that few other avowed true-school acts can achieve. It sounds lighter than air, as if the group were pushing its arrangements into the atmosphere.

On The Scenic Route the Washington, D.C. doesn’t necessarily change its formula from Ink is My Drink, last year’s full-length rookie effort. Instead, the group pushes its aesthetic to the extreme, achieving the equivalent of a hip-hop quiet storm. Other groups dabble in neo-soul-like sonics, of course, but producer K-Murdock introduces a New Age element that makes his tracks sound jazzy and ambient. Think of it as a meeting between Wes Montgomery, George Winston and Boards of Canada. The title track in particular is reminiscent of mid-90s rap group the Nonce.

With such a dynamic background to rhyme over, MC Raw Poetic twists some nice lyrics. “Summer time and six o’clock’s about the hour/My afternoon white russian has got me louder/My house I’m walking out of with a pick in my hair/Rapping to a beat inside of me that no one can hear,” he says on “Epiphany.” But his voice, cool and even, sometimes gets lost amidst K-Murdock’s cumulus beats. On “Bubble,” he tries to weave an abstract lyric as K-Murdock crafts a bouncy, bassy rhythm overlaid with psychedelic effects. The track is so magnificent it’s easy to ignore what Raw Poetic is talking about. It’s one of hip-hop’s odd ironies: sometimes the most lyrically astute rappers have the least distinctive voices, while mainstream rappers with nothing to say speak in unforgettable tones.

Nevertheless, The Scenic Route has some great songs, among them “Bubble,” “Square 1” and “Pops Said.” If the tracks tend to meld into one another, it’s only because Panacea works with admirable consistency. Still, it will be interesting if the group can evolve beyond these early triumphs, or become — much like Boards of Canada — a one-trick pony with a much-loved but predictable sound.

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