Album Review | calm. – Conversations with a Willow Tree

This album was released on January 1st this year. calm. is a Hip Hop duo comprised of MC Time and producer AwareNess. Their last album, Things I Learned While Dying in Denver, made it into my top 5 albums of 2018, so I was pretty excited when I saw that they released this project. I only heard one of the singles prior to listening to the album, but I really loved that track, so I had a feeling that I would really enjoy this album.

The album begins with a highlight entitled Living in Hell-Vetica. I think this track is awesome. The production from AwareNess is fantastic, and Time’s verses are all super well-written.

Under a dying sun and dead moon, I listen to the dead move
Orange bottles in the bedroom, milligrams of dead truths
Sirens sound like Buckley humming hallelujah
Anti smile pills scattered in Shibuya
Candy wrappers, road kill, man, this city's so ill
Wine bottles, scratch tickets, take another hope pill
Vomit that control pill, I wrote this with a crow quill
If the cops don't kill you, the hackers and the code will

Every single line that Time spit on this track had me hooked, and I actually think his flow sounds more traditional on this song than it usually does. He’s always had a pretty off-kilter cadence, which was an acquired taste for sure. However, I think this album may be easier for listeners to get into because his flow isn’t as odd. The closing couplet on this song is probably my favorite part of the whole track.

She said you are not the story and you are not the hero
This is a math lesson on how to count to zero

That line is so awesome to me. I also appreciate how the beat kinda switches up slightly for all three verses. The song is dope as hell. The following track is even better in my opinion. It’s called What’s a Friend But a Future Wound?, and it’s basically about how people are shitty friends a lot of the time. I think the first verse is fucking awesome.

I didn't lose a friend, I just realized I never had one
But I am my wounds, I am my friends, even if I’m a bad one

I literally said “goddamn!” out loud after I heard that couplet for the first time. The idea of being a bad friend to yourself is so cool to me in kind of a fucked up way. The hook is performed by a singer named TAMARA, and I was honestly blown away by her performance. I think she sounds amazing here. Time fucking killed that second verse too. I’m absolutely in love with his writing here.

When I was depressed and wanted to vent you made it about yourself
I should have learned it the first time, but it took me 'til the 12th
What’s the difference between a goal, an expectation and a deception?
Every secret I told you from my soul was forged into a weapon
I'm everyone that hurt me, I'm everyone I hurt
Grandma used to say, we pick the ones we think we deserve
But what's a human without a scar, what's a planet without a star?
I don't care if you'll betray me I just want to love who you are
She said don't fear the future, roll the dice, give it your all
She said death isn't sad, the sad thing is some never live at all

I fucking love every aspect of this song. I haven’t even mentioned the production yet, but the beat is fire too. I can’t praise this track enough. I think it’s dope af. Track 3 is the one single I heard before checking out the full album. It’s called To Live & Die in Dystopia, and I wrote about it a couple years ago in one of my Best Singles of the Week posts.

calm. released one of my favorite albums of 2018, so I was excited when I saw that this song was coming out. I haven’t heard a ton of Niko Is’ work, but I’ve heard him on features since he’s under Talib Kweli’s label. He was great on that Diamond D album from last year. I really loved his verse at the beginning of this track too.

Today’s Tom Sawyer got mean mean pride
Rappers ain’t real, they got that green screen vibe
I’m home everywhere, I see drones everywhere
I’m dodgin’ Big Brother in el cielo
They comin’ for my neck like a cello

I really like the dark, dramatic production from AwareNess. My favorite aspect of it is the section where it just turns into a bunch of heavy bass hits and a scream in the background. The second verse from Time is awesome. This line was crazy to me…

The city is a prison with invisible bars
There’s only cameras in the sky, there never were stars

As soon as I heard that shit I was like…

Myka 9 of course slaughtered that final verse too. The way he was rhyming and flowing here was so meticulous and technical. It was crazy. Freestyle Fellowship will always be one of the most under-appreciated groups of all time to me. He murdered this song. This is easily one of my favorite tracks of the week too. Don’t sleep on it. Let me know what you think.

This song is followed by the title track, Conversations with a Willow Tree, which is another fantastic song to me. I absolutely adore the piano-driven production, and Time’s poetic lyricism fits over it perfectly.

Conversations with a willow tree, the branches sway heavenly
They say it’s meant to be, and it’ll all make sense eventually
When centipedes crawl through my skull and eat all my memories
And I return to the soil and fertilize serenity
To become food for the worms and reciprocate the energy
No more enemies, no more spam to be sent to me
I never use Hennessy as a remedy
'Cause I never wanted addiction to be a friend of me

The song’s just one long verse with no hook or bridge or anything like that. It’s the shortest song on the album, but I don’t even mind the brevity because everything here is so well done. The song’s dope as hell. Track 5 is called Landlord of the Gentriflies, and it features Lee Reed and Buddha. I was pretty excited for this track because it’s been a long ass time since I’ve heard Lee Reed on the mic. I haven’t heard anything from him since his 2018 album, Before & Aftermath, which was pretty good. Check that project out if you haven’t heard it yet. Anyway, the first verse from Time is pretty dope. As you may have guessed from the title, the subject of this song is gentrification.

Since that eviction letter, this ain't really been home
Landlord didn't discover this, that's Chris Columbus syndrome
We're just trying to raise the roof, they just wanna raise the rent
I've been working 3 jobs, I gave that cracker every cent
Landlord of the flies, dollar signs in his eyes
Let's stop working for the rich, so we can live our fucking lives
Skylines filled with condos, throw 'em out like Marie Kondo
Landlords don't spark joy, throw 'em out the city pronto
Give the land back from Canada to Colorado
Those aren't giants, those are windmills, just ask Sancho

The second verse from Lee Reed was pretty nice too. It was just nice to hear from him again after such a long time. I wasn’t familiar with Buddha before listening to this song, but I really enjoyed the final verse from him. He has a pretty cool flow.

Y’all don’t own the earth or know the worth
Coach taught me if your brother's cold and all you own's a shirt
You find a way to split that shirt
Half a million evicted they still insisting the system work
Assisted living let you live in thirst
This government place people second, business first
They gentrified our existence, but we been dispersed

This isn’t really a highlight for me on the album, but I still really enjoyed it. I think it’s a dope track. It’s followed by Autobiography of a Bomb. As the title indicates, Time is rapping from the perspective of a bomb.

Back where we started in the skies of Yemen
I came out an F15's womb falling from heaven
My nose smashes into a rock, tripping a fuse in my tail
I detonate like 200 pounds of TNT with death on my trail
I fracture into a 1000 pieces, I’m the antonym of what peace is
My shards go 8 times the speed of sound as destruction increases
I don’t kill people, I rearrange them, I remove appendages
Bashing through flesh, I’m wild, I disassemble and dismember them

I think this track is a very well-executed concept that exposes the horrors of war. All three of the verses on this track are super well-written, especially the third one. The production from AwareNess is great too. There’s not really a hook; there’s just a bunch of audio clips of people talking about war and bombs and shit between the verses. I think the song is dope. Track 7 is a single called Whose Dystopia, and it features Che Noir.

The song was released in November, but I didn’t hear it until I checked out the full album. I think the production is fantastic, and the first verse from Che is very well written.

Take a look to the left, that's a man just trying to provide
Coming from work 12 hour shifts at night when he drives
Pulled by a cop for no other reason besides his skin
Reached for his license, one shot, he brought his life to an end
Look to the right, a young girl with so much potential
The things she fights to avoid is all that shows out her window
And there ain't excuses, they ain't know it was bad
Gotta work twice as hard just to only get half

Once again, there’s not really much of a hook here. The verses are just broken up by an audio clip of Ursula Le Guin talking about how the rich are corrupt. The second verse from Time is even better than that of Che in my opinion. I love how he went in about the fucked up way indigenous people have been treated in this country.

George Washington said he was making providence
But the Iroquois called him town destroyer, and this country's been robbing since
At sand creek they saw apocalypse in the US flag
The treaties were trash, they need to just give the land back
Thomas More's book Utopia was based on slavery
No gods, no masters, no western thought papacy
You must have copious amounts of myopia, look up Cahokia
'Cause what you call history could be someone else's dystopia

I don’t really have any gripes with this song at all. Both of the MCs on this track did a great job, but I’m actually mostly impressed by the production. AwareNess killed this joint. The song is dope. Track 8 is called Bleeding Typewriter, and it has some of the most abstract lyricism on the album in my opinion. I think the first verse is great.

Dancer in the dark, I saw the fog of my breath
I saw a flash in the park as a coyote wept
I walked towards the spark to a cottonwood tree
I saw an Olympia, it saw a darkness in me
Fermented dreams, it saw the rot inside of me
It told the shadows "I’m glad you brought him to me"
The metal was cold like a glock to my head
That happened in '03, by now I thought I’d be dead

In terms of lyrical content, I actually think this is one of the most interesting songs on the album. I love the way the third verse ends.

Baldwin wrote another country with an SM7
Gonzo typed his last letter and took a cannon to heaven
Kaczynski used a Montgomery Ward standard
Plath pounded on a Hermes, searching for the answers
Leonard Cohen drowned his in the Aegean sea
It sunk like a beautiful loser as it rusted in peace
Thank you for finding me in the park, your light was strong
Creation has the courage to say you might belong
I swear at night machines come alive, I might be wrong
But last night I watched the Olympia type this song

I like this song more now than I initially did when I first heard it. I think the production is dope, and Time’s writing had me hooked. The song is dope as hell. The following track is entitled Some Stories Are Too True to Tell. I really love the kind of Electronic-sounding production from AwareNess, and, once again, I was hooked by Time’s poetic lyricism.

You're never lonely in Babylon, that's why I’m trying to travel on
You can't judge me, your gavel's gone, up shit's creek I paddle on
Poets are always complaining, rappers are always bragging
I sewed them both together and turned them into a dagger
And into my back I stabbed, I am Judas, I am Brutus
I'm a poem that was never written in the pen of Pablo Neruda
Pass me another plate of friends, I’m tired of making them
I didn't forget those memories, I assassinated them

Something about his vocals sounds kind of strange on this song. It’s like he used a filter to make his voice sound more robotic. It’s not really a bad thing for me, but I did find it kind of odd. There’s not really a hook or bridge or anything like that on this song. Time is just rapping one long verse. It’s definitely not one of my favorite songs on the album, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it’s dope. The following track is entitled Polarvoid. I like the relatively cloudy production on this track, and the first verse from Time is pretty awesome.

Face covered in acne, MC Pepperoni
Lungs kept popping, I was pot washing, out the hospital and bony
Perfected the craft, Points used to make me laugh
This was before they imprisoned half the lab
When I got arrested my mom paid the fines
I got a job and paid her back with money that was mine
I'm here 'cause somebody loved me, they put no one else above me
I'm just trying to show that to someone else whose life's been ugly
Life got real, it's funny how time steals
I look in the mirror I touch my face, but can't feel

I like how this song is less abstract and more autobiographical. Not that I dislike the abstract shit. It’s just cool to get some variation. Anyway, the sung hook is performed by someone named Erica Zandelin, who did a pretty good job in my opinion. The second verse is even better than the first one to me.

The studio's my confession booth, AwareNess' beats bless us
The sidewalk's a scantron, the state just wants to test us
Each verse is like a diary, books lit a fire in me
From Baldwin to Conrad to Hooks, they inspire me
Speak to the beat like a therapist, we all know how rare that is
My heart's my ghost writer, vulnerability's where the marriage is
I'm anti-past, I'm anti-future, I'm anti-now, I'm pro-void
'Cause I just want to exist somewhere, are we all droids?

The song’s really dope to me. The penultimate track is entitled In the Flowers, and it’s pretty much just about different herbs & spices and the medicinal effects they have.

Here's some curry for the pancreas and saffron for the brain
And some rhodiola tea to ease the mental pain
Fight the blues with some greens, here's some seeds for serotonin
Here's some cabbage for the kidneys, and goji for melatonin
Hears some radish for warmth, and ginger for the stomach
Here's some ashwagandha for when your spirit plummets

As far as the lyrical content goes, I don’t find it that interesting, but I think the verses are very well written. The production is pretty great too. It’s a pretty dope song, although not one of my favorites on the album. The closing track is called Real Death (true), and it’s another one of my favorite tracks on the project. I think the heavy, melodic production is fantastic, and I love the poetic lyricism about death from Time.

Do not stand by my grave and weep, I am not matter, I am not there
My stack is shattered, 4 elements, consciousness comes after air
Sometimes you need to devour yourself to keep something else alive
So help me unbuild these walls, hold my hand, let's climb inside

The sung hook is performed by someone named Oatmeal Queen, who did a really great job in my opinion. The second verse from Time is even better than the first one. I love how he was rapping about the willow tree which got cut down.

You gave me your story, I didn't know they'd come and cut you down
I heard when kings would ride under you, your branches would knock off their crowns
Raindrops from your leaves fall like tears, it makes a type of tea
Your bark cures pain, your branches are tendrils, each one's a memory
But you're still alive in a different form, I’m climbing your roots like a ladder
The moon pulls our tears, fearful thoughts I let them all shatter
Take these branches to the underworld, bend and sway with them like the wind
Make a harp from them, then play a hopeful song for a friend

Again, this is one of my favorite songs on the album. I think it’s dope af, and a fantastic way to close the project.

This album is dope as hell. There’s not a single track here that I don’t think is dope. Time’s poetic lyricism had me hooked throughout the whole album, and AwareNess’ production is phenomenal. As I said earlier in the body of this review, I think Time’s flow is a bit easier to grasp here than it has been in the past. The features all came through with really great performances as well. I don’t have any consistent gripes with this project. I think it’s really great. Don’t sleep on this one. It’ll likely go down as one of my favorite albums of 2022.

Favorite Song: What’s a Friend But a Future Wound?
Least Favorite Song: In the Flowers


Grade: A-

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