Album Review: Tornts - Concrete Slang

3 July 2012 | 11:32 am | Aleksia Barron

It’s raw, tough and interwoven with uncomfortable stories.

The fifth album from hard-hitting Melbourne hip hop artist Tornts is, in many ways, what we've come to expect from him. It's raw, tough and interwoven with uncomfortable stories and plenty of expletives. It's also possibly his best work to date, thanks in large part to his evolution as a lyricist.

Tornts has a skill for crafting narrative-driven verses. Rather than baldly telling listeners what to think about the world, he creates stories, offering a window into darker, more difficult lives. This plays out to perfection on Traumatic Cinema, which details the experiences of an impoverished young boy's relationship with his abusive family. It works well again on Smack Dust, featuring veteran Brad Strut, a freakishly detailed tale of drug pushing.

A track like Undercover Maggot, about an undercover policeman, could easily just descend into meaningless vitriol, but it's Tornts' lyrical skill, coupled with a sly, unexpected streak of humour, that saves it. There's something awkward and hilarious in the image he conjures up: “Sniff around us like a dog around food/Informer, trying to read our fuckin' tattoos.” It's a perfect laceration of the inept bureaucracy.

What Tornts does only rarely is put his own life and experiences down as lyrics, which makes tracks like the brilliant The Rain all the more special. It's somewhere between a lament and a warning; the lyrics come from a man who recognises darkness but won't bow to it. “My mum used to call me Eeyore when I was a toddler/'Cos I was grumpy and the world, it seemed like I'd seen it before/I can read people then and now I can even more.

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Tornts has done much of his own production, and he's eschewed the current trend towards feature instrumentation and genre-blending, instead choosing to focus on solid, heavy synth-based beats. The resulting album is difficult but rewarding – an excellent slice of uncompromising underground hip hop.