Once a punchline and now a platinum-selling and arena-filling commodity, Australian hip-hop has experienced an ascent nothing short of astounding. For all the growing mainstream recognition, however, fringe-dwellers remain – such as Teether, the Tumbuka and Toccolan rapper who should move out of the ‘overlooked’ category with his fourth solo album ‘MACHONA: Afar, You Are An Animal’.
Teether is a compelling figure for his shroud of intrigue. Rather than bursting out of the speakers, he reels listeners into his finessed, textured take on alternative hip-hop. ‘MACHONA’ reveals itself to be a rabbit hole worth burrowing deep into: Not only is it Teether’s strongest work to date, it might enter him into the conversation around Australian hip-hop’s most compelling artists.
Legend goes that Teether made the entire album by himself over a three-month period without an internet connection. That sense of isolation and drift has certainly factored into several lockdown-era albums, but the key point of difference with ‘MACHONA’ is how woozy and often formless the songs are.
Rarely presenting anything resembling a hook, Teether instead uses his verses to delve into self-assessment and vivid introspection. “You could sink if you swim in there / I just sink in a swivel chair”, he ruminates on opener ‘Cross Charge’; on ‘Agogo’s Bible’, he lays out the psychological effects of Melbourne’s lockdown with “Got some friction burns from over-ponderance / The irony of isolating deep within the populace”.
His low-energy approach, contrasted with the acerbic wit weaved within, initially recalls the likes of Earl Sweatshirt and Chester Watson. However, ‘MACHONA’ grows idiosyncratic over the course of its 13 tracks. From the rudimentary drum machines to the warped, lo-fi sample work on each song, Teether puts in notable effort into a project that could be dismissed as lackadaisical.
The foreboding keys of ‘Whirr’ give way to haunting chops and screws of album highlight ‘Tesoro’ – which itself bleeds into the skipping-record string swells of ‘About Swords’. On that track, Teether serves a bar that passes by so subtly you might not pick up on its resonance until repeat listens: “Don’t let your light out / You might need it in the dark”. ‘MACHONA’’s sense of place develops as the tracklist progresses at a tense, methodical pace, giving a sense of the walls closing in upon themselves.
Although the album largely centres solely on Teether, a number of guests appear throughout. Sydney rapper Sevy takes lead on ‘Mournful Faint Humming’ with slow-mo Scotch snap flows over a distant, reggae-tinged beat. Elsewhere, fellow experimental Melburnian Realname appears on the dark, menacing ‘Magick’ with a verse that descends into robotic distortion, as if he were a malfunctioning android rapidly spitting information. Rather than distract from Teether’s vision, these guests enhance it by creating new dimensions.
After years of daring to be different, Teether’s latest effort is living proof that who dares wins. While this project won’t score any ARIA nominations or blow up the charts, any Australian hip-hop head worth their salt should embrace ‘MACHONA: Afar, You Are An Animal’ as an impeccable work of modern outsider art.
- Release date: May 27
- Record label: X Amount Records