Two-and-a-half years on from his last album, it feels as though To What End has oftentimes been a struggle for Oddisee to get over the line. There’s so much he wants to say, and so many topics he does indeed explore successfully, but this proves to be both a strength and weakness of the record.
The Washington D.C. native began his career exclusively as a producer, and the variety in sound is as pronounced as the variety in subject. To What End comes in at 51 minutes, but feels a lot longer. Within many songs there are seismic switch-ups, working in the album’s favour in large parts, but occasionally proving jarring; the transition between tracks also making it hard to really get into To What End as a whole.
There are enough high points on this release that, regardless of how successfully it comes together as a unified project, it is well worth a listen. Opener ‘The Start Of Something’ successfully does what it says on the tin, the word ‘something’ perhaps suggesting a deliberate ambiguity as to quite what the album is saying as a whole.
‘Choices’ is my favourite track on the album. One of the most conventional in structure, Oddisee and Phonte rap between a dreamy hook by BeMyFiasco, before a brilliant final verse from Kay Young. The song does more than enough, adding a funky little outro, and proves that for someone who can do so much, parts of To What End would benefit from Oddisee dialling back.
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The song ‘People Watching’ is a good example.The track switches back and forth between the choppy, piano-led flow that opens the track, and the more mellow verse that comes in around the minute mark. Both are Oddisse, both work, and the ability to fuse them is impressive, but just as you find yourself beginning to really get into either style, it switches up again.
Each of the three album singles are standouts on the project as well. ‘Try Again’ is groovy and feels a bit like an Anderson .Paak song, while ‘Ghetto to Meadow’ featuring Freeway opens with a deft, hypnotic chorus that hooks you in straight away. It’s three minutes and change of relentless lyrics, and just as Oddisee’s half-sung, half-rapped hook is stretching on, Freeway joins the fray with a snarl at the perfect moment. The chorus on ‘Hard to Tell’ is an example of Oddisee making the sharp chops work.
I realise that my only real gripe with this album – its lack of coherent direction – may well be deliberate. The very title of To What End suggests uncertainty. Punctuation or not, it is a question and one that Oddisee does not need to have a definitive answer for.
By not, however, the record has a ceiling of just being good. While there are no bad songs and no complete misses, you can’t help but feel that To What End is more of an assortment than a targeted collection. A very welcome return, nonetheless.