Album: Elephant Graveyard

Artist: Otem Rellik

Label: Circle Into Square

Hometown: Fort Collins

Where to Find It:

Why We Like It: Mention Otem Rellik to those who recall his emergence from a basement in Fort Collins, and you’ll hear about a baby doll’s head. The enigmatic producer and MC is known for having transformed the sorrowful head of a baby doll into a digital instrument, then incorporating it into live shows he orchestrates with modified equipment kept inside a suitcase unfolded onto a keyboard stand.

Honestly, Toby Hendricks, the singular man behind Otem Rellik, may be brilliant. In addition to engineering instruments, he paints, writes poetry, and brings an artistry to his music that cannot be contained. Sure, he rhymes like an MC, over strong beats, but it would be shortsighted and limiting to call this hip-hop. His songs move both body and soul, and the music he produces is mournful and often beautiful, like the best indie rock.

Unlike some emo-hop (I’m thinking of Atmosphere), this is not a self-deprecating pity party. Nor is it a work of rage, like Eminem’s music. While Hendricks’ poetic lyrics are intensely personal and full of sadness (he is clearly upset about his crooked teeth, for instance) he doesn’t spit rage or dwell, giving listeners a sense that he is struggling to rise above—and it’s easy to relate and cheer him on. “I’m just tracing the scars that surround this body,” he rhymes in “The Four Sided Secret” with the cadence of someone running down a hill trying to catch up with their feet.

With Elephant Graveyard, it feels like he may have caught up. There is a diversity of sounds and instrumentation, a greater attention to melody and singing, and a maturity that he has been building up to in his previous releases. There’s even a duet with Danielle Ate the Sandwich.