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Four Years Later, Cross-Creative Collaborative Collective Play Nice Navigates their Eclectic Mosaic through ‘Misfit Fantasy’

Evan Dale // June 7, 2024

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Play Nice

There was some creative and surprisingly collaborative good to come from the unfortunate distance of 2020. If it had to all happen, at least it did when the interconnectedness of the internet kept concomitant myriad human links. For some, the additional solitude and abrupt life changes even spurred artistic inspiration. By way of the triangulation between circumstance, technology, and creativity, we were introduced to Play Nice at the beginning of all that was the pandemic breakdown of norms. By the time July of 2020 rolled around, the online collective of friends and collaborators – most of whom had never met face to face – released their debut album: the aptly titled Home Buddies. It was – still is – a flowing collection of stylistically varied explorations by a group of artists who, though incredibly different, were tethered by a smattering of musically cohesive throughlines in their work.

And now, four years later, without the eventual mending of all those broken norms that had been brought into existence by the unpredictability of 2020, Play Nice returns to re-ignite a listener’s senses, along with a listener’s sense of what’s possible in art and music in a world forever changed, still changing, and embracing more than ever a sense of post-genre fluidity.

It is admittedly challenging to unearth the specifics of the collective’s workings track-to-track. For all its collaborative pieces from the onset, the group and its members contract, expand, and evolve with every song, and the names involved aren’t so easily identified the further their collective identity – shrouded in a sort of animated anonymity – has congealed overtop the independent artistries. So, unlike our coverage of their 2020 emergence fluttering with details of which artist was featured where, these words will largely refer to the groupas exactly that.

And that group has only continued to expand their sonic reaches in the four years that have passed.

Misfit Fantasy is a musical island of misfit toys. Stylistic sprawl in auditory form, it’s an album that pushes and pulls at any sort of our world’s remaining constructs of genre, in an era where those structures are the most abandoned that they’ve ever been. Yet with abandon, Play Nice forges onward to deliver something that, though removed from the expected stylistically consistent spaces of old, is still tethered akin by something altogether new and surprisingly cohesive.

Much of that certainly has to do with its production. J. Robb, Bowtye, and Naji – names all tied to the origin story of Play Nice – find themselves credited for building most of the amalgam foundations on which the album is built upowards, while names like Insightful – out of whose visual language, Play Nice’s animated identity was originally carved – and NASAYA also helped craft the album’s immense yet flowing beatscape.

It's a pack that never truly gives away its secrets to anyone listening, twisting and turning with unpredictability, yet somehow never losing its way to guide a larger unified path forward for the lengthy, and musically mosaic list of names involved. Opening with The Setup: a summery, Mellow Pop composition folding in some beachy chords and warm vocals, Misfit Fantasy forges on with unpredictable fervor, at times swerving back towards the pop-adjacent Springtime energy of its opener with cuts like Places. Soulfully nostalgic beats like those which underline Keys, Stranger, and Sometimes open doors for melodically emotional vocals and downtempo rapped stanzas, putting things into slower motion. Slower still, the romantically inclined R&B influence of songs like Dubby and Hindsight pull the album into another dimension of sultry, emotive verve. And in the opposite direction, through the Naji-led My Friends and the linguistically dynamic flow of Stood Over, Misift Fantasy’s most rapped additions, too, shine bright, energetic, and still boldly fitting with the rest of the project.

But shining brightest – at least for this one music journalist – is Casamigos, where overtop a bass-dwelling, chime-stricken beat from Da-P, a ghostly, funky hook trades spaces with a duo of verses, the first timelessly West Coast with a stank-face delivery, and the second methodically lyrical and understated. Broad, brash, and spitting in the face of expected style and anchored eras, it’s a microcosm of Misfit Fantasy at large, and how as individual artists and collectively in-tune, Play Nice has only gotten sharper and more confident in the years that have passed.

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