Let’s be honest with ourselves; the vast majority of rap-rock hybrid acts are a bit naff. The bulk of these groups you see doing the rounds within the alternative scene rely heavily on exasperated gimmicks or genre stereotypes in order to be relatable or notable. Sure, it’s always a laugh to get drunk and raise £4.99 pints in air to Limp Bizkit’s ‘Shotgun’, but can one really stand back and defend the musical integrity of such a track? Not really. With this in mind, it feel’s somewhat like a crime for Motherwell’s The LaFontaines to be lumped into this often-scrutinised sub-genre. Originating in 2010 in the sunny pastures of northern Scotland, the group have gained a cult status within the underground scene due to their DIY take on the stale ‘rock-meets-rap’ genre and turning it into a fresh, original, relatable and innovative affair. Despite their aforementioned reputation, their sophomore full length, Common Problem sees the group take focus on bringing their sound to the extended masses.
Immediately, it’s transparent that Common Problem isn’t a record to deliver its message through ushered metaphor or timid expressions. The suitably titled opener of ‘Explosion’ is an adrenaline laced beast of a track that fully presents what this record is about; a cynical, yet humour laced look at the current social-economic state of the planet delivered through jagged synths, slamming drum and guitar lines and venomous rapped vocals. The rest of the album follows suit, but the sheer level of experimentation present within this release delivers for a fully engaging and innovative listen.
Like stated, it seems the majority of rap and rock crossover acts depend on genre stereotypes and archetypal ideologies in order to be relatable to an extended audience. For example, the majority of such acts seem to rely on a stereotypical rock tone for a foundation, before incorporating rap oriented ideologies into the sound. In contrast, Common Problem is an album that acknowledges such conventions and genre elements, but bends them into a more unique and original sound whilst experimenting with other genres in order to create a more homegrown DIY sound and tone. ‘Torture’ see’s the group clashing classic rap beats with harmonising, melodic guitar riffs, ‘Goldmine’ and ‘Atlas’ diverts to a more indie focused sound featuring massive clean vocals against soaring walls of synths and the title track of the record takes a slightly more pop tone, yet presented in a refreshing and original manner. There’s a lot of inspirations evident within this record, and the overall tone is one of energetic, conscious maturity.
Yet, the vocal and lyrical talents of front man Kerr Okan are undoubtedly the spine and driving force of the record. The shifting rapped vocals present are delivered in a confident swagger that resonates frustration, but never brings on feelings of pompousness, arrogance or intimidation. On top of this, such vocals are wrapped in a subtle, yet notable Glaswegian accent, which may sound like a minor detail, but add a whole additional level of dynamics to such vocals. The contrast of Okan’s vocals clashing with the cleans on the album is thoroughly engaging and thrilling, and the differing styles in vocals present continuously complement each other throughout the record and never seen at odds against each other.
It’s worth mentioning the fantastic level of production values present within this release, courtesy of Joe Cross (The Courteeners). The mixing demonstrated fully gives the punch the record requires and deserves in order to present the inventiveness and energy attendant. In all, Common Problem is a record that is conscious of its genre, but is also one that succeeds in re-inventing it for the greater good.