The Cleaning Crew promise to clean up Missoula's rap scene. On their self-titled debut, the pair are off to a hot start, injecting vigor into a genre that's always struggled in the land of psych and bluegrass.
Beatmaker s_nya (Cole Bronson) and rapper Thin Truk (Elliot Tabler) both live in Missoula, and run in the same music circles. They still ended up creating about half of their debut record, “The Cleaning Crew,” over email, a common practice in the music world, though not necessarily between collaborators in the same city.
“I had a beat I was sitting on that I thought would fit (Tabler’s) style,” Bronson said. “I sent it to him and he emailed me back the next day and I was blown away.”
That track is “Funeral Style,” with a driving, skipping beat and Tabler referencing smoking weed in the University of Montana residence halls and living on the Westside.
The collaboration continued, with around six tracks finished over email, Bronson said.
“We met about two months into the project,” Tabler said. “It was weird living in the same city and being in the same circles that we are and not really interacting.
“It was kinda nice, with nobody critiquing my rapping,” he smiled.
The pair worked together hand-in-glove, both with clear ideas for the record that could easily acquiesce for the other if needed.
“You were kinda curating it, based on what you thought I could rap over,” Tabler said to Bronson.
Nearly every beat was an older composition, Bronson said, and he picked out a mix of styles to send to Tabler.
“I knew you had crazy range,” he told Tabler. “I’d seen you rap over Power Plant and Crypticollider.”
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Bronson’s production combines synths, off-kilter beats and samples to make bright, moody beats that push Tabler to rap over them with a similarly varied style. In tone, “The Cleaning Crew” carries echoes of Monster Rally and Jay Stone's 2015 collaboration “Foreign Pedestrians,” on which Jay Stone uses his conversational flow to transmit as many minute details about his life in Oakland as possible, listing what he ate for breakfast, a scene at a local park and his order from a taco truck.
Tabler takes a similar flow on “The Cleaning Crew,” and adds his own Missoula-focused details, from bars about Rockin’ Rudy’s to our notoriously bad drivers, in “Absurd":
“Yeah them drivers make the Missoulians look insane/I don’t know how they got a license/if they hit me I guarantee they’re paying my rent”
Or some thoughts on the ever-changing Missoula, in “The Cut:”
“The school’s gone to s--t/you moved here cause it’s hip/you saw what’s going on and now you’re stuck and can’t dip/you better move to an apartment complex for some rent/you know the one they tore my homie’s house down to put in.”
Bronson’s beats follow no previously dictated ideas; they are dense and clattering, with healthy doses of reverb and distortion vocals that spring up around and between Tabler’s bars.
It’s highly modern stuff, which Bronson’s been spinning for a while now, in house shows and other venues, as well as on his instrumental debut, “One.” that came out in March 2019.
Tabler had his debut as Thin Truk out in November 2018, just a couple of months after he and Bronson started collaborating. Some album releases can be tiring, Tabler said. After working on the music for so long, you don’t want to talk about or play it again.
But the duo felt different about “The Cleaning Crew.”
“It works,” Bronson said, “in such a way I didn’t expect it to.”
“It’s all I want to play live,” Tabler added.