All Hands consolidates the advances made by Doomtree on the hip-hop collective’s breakthrough disc from 2011, No Kings. Like that 10th-anniversary collection, All Hands was initiated by the group’s three producers concocting mixes for the five emcees (Cecil Otter does double duty) to bounce off and build out from, instead of each member bringing in his or her own song projects. Once again, the crew hunkered down in a cabin to crystallize this ensemble process — and once again they emerged with a brace of densely impressionistic, explosive jams laced with rock-inflected electronics and besotted with virtuoso verbiage.
On All Hands, shadowbox topics with deft allusions, the emcees delivering freestyled imagery and sneaky counterpunch-lines. The subject could be as visceral and elusive as paranoia (“The Bends”), vengeance (“.38 Airweight”) or legacy (“Marathon”), or as concrete and deceptively mundane as computer games (“Final Boss”) or life on the road (“80 on 80″). Entering their 14th year, the collective melds and splays in all the right ways, each deejay and emcee distinctive enough to have carried successful solo projects outside the crew, but with a pack-mentality commitment to the greater glory of each track.
Consequently, there is not a single throwaway here. Everybody can flex, whether it’s Mike Mictlan’s assonant juxtapositions (my favorites are “hella-copters” and “hello coppers” and “boots to the ceiling” and “boostin’ the serum”), Dessa’s serpent-tongued coolness (she kills with a feminist diatribe that ends “call to arms young statuettes/ coquettin’s clever yet, but/ Venus de Milo’s better with her bayonet” on the battle-rapping “Generator”), P.O.S’s trenchant topicalism, Sims’s quicksilver singsong or Cecil Otter’s comparatively mordant musings. The mixes likewise are strong — Spoon could easily appropriate the sunny hooks helmed by Lazerbeak and Cecil Otter on the water-themed “Heavy Rescue,” and “My Own Nation” swirls with prog-rock delirium of those two and Paper Tiger. “Gray Duck” manages to be both staccato and grooving; “The Bends” is both anthemic and foreboding.
If there’s a weakness to All Hands, it is in the similarity of the songs; they come hard and fast, if not furious, without a woozy change of pace like “Little Mercy” from No Kings. But that’s a quibble. All Hands is decked out with bottled-up insights.