Blockhead is a New York producer who has been making music for years, first gaining notoriety for his work with Aesop Rock, then establishing himself as a solo artist with a series of strong instrumental albums on Ninja Tunes. Most recently, he released a solo instrumental album called Funeral Balloons, which came out in September of 2017. Now he comes back with a different type of solo album in Free Sweatpants.

Blockhead has accomplished a lot in his career, and he’s worked on just about every type of project over the years, producing one-off tracks for different artists, collaborating on EPs and full-length albums with different artists, and releasing full-length solo instrumental albums. The one thing he hadn’t done up until this point was a solo album that included multiple guest emcees throughout, which is exactly what we get with Free Sweatpants. Over the course of the album, we get appearances from billy woods, Open Mike Eagle, Breezly Brewin, Aesop Rock, Tree, Homeboy Sandman, Armand Hammer, Vic Spencer, Marq Spekt, and Hemlock Ernst, interspersed with some instrumental tracks. This can be one of the tougher formulas to pull off for an album, just in terms of making everything sound coherent, and unfortunately that is the case here. One of the most difficult aspects of an album like this is not only assembling the talent to contribute to the album, but also getting everyone on the same page and giving maximum effort. There are some dope instrumental tracks on the album, which remind that he’s put together some truly excellent, thematic instrumental albums, such as The Music Scene or Interludes After Midnight. He knows how to build songs around memorable instrumental hooks and develop them into these compositions that stay with you. When it comes to the vocal tracks, it becomes a little more hit and miss. Some tracks, such as those featuring Armand Hammer or Open Mike Eagle are exactly as good as you’d expect. Some tracks, such as those with Aesop Rock of Homeboy Sandman, are good, but not nearly as good as they could be given the talent on paper. Some tracks, such as the one featuring Tree, just aren’t very good and feel like they don’t belong. And then you have “Blue Veil,” featuring Hemlock Ernst, the hip hop alias of Samuel T. Herring of Future Island, which is so good, focused, and energetic that it frankly makes a lot of the roster on this album look bad in comparison. This is all to say that Free Sweatpants is an inconsistent album from start to finish, but it certainly has its high points.

Blockhead has been making music for a long time, and he took a chance and tried something different with Free Sweatpants. While it’s frustrating in its uneven quality, there are still some real gems contained within, and I also have to appreciate that he found a way to push himself outside of his comfort zone.