Overflowing with Powerful Features and Positive Energy, ‘The Vibetape’ is a Cohesive, Timeless Super-Collaboration Free from Definition
Evan Dale // Dec 4, 2023
The word vibe can be a cliché in music journalism. It’s a catch-all, so us lazy writers can refrain from diving too deep into the curios of a particular artist, project, or track. Vibes can be good or bad, high or low, sunshiny or melancholy. And yet, music rarely lives up to the ambiguity, breadth, and indefinability of the word itself. A vibe is a rangy feeling, a broad emotion that need not further dissection so long at it checks any of myriad boxes. So when a project’s name itself utilizes the word, it leaves a lot to the imagination.
But from Smile High and The Main Squeeze – a keyboardist and his band, to simplify the equation – imagination bountifully overflows. The Vibetape – a 10-track, half-hour collection spilling over from beginning to end with sultry basslines, instrumental Neo-Soul bliss, playful keystrokes, and an unparalleled manifest of collaborating features – is at once worthy of the expansive opacity of the word, while also pinpointing so many iterations of what the word can specially come to mean. The Vibetape is a vibe, I reluctantly write.
“I've always found the most joy in collaborating with others and combining what I do best with what other people do best, and just being pleasantly surprised with the end result,” shares Ben Silverstein, who for overtly obvious reasons is affectionately referred to as Smiley, and has taken Smile High to new heights here. “That's always been the essence of what I've been doing, and ‘The Vibetape’ is truly the culmination of that.”
From its onset, The Vibetape straddles stylistic gray areas with cohesive balance yet a barrage of no-holds-bar experimental changes of musical pace. To keep its heading, The Vibetape’s tethering force is the Soulful production at its center, where Smiley – at his keys, behind the boards, and deep in his artistic relationships with everyone involved – unapologetically infuses every moment with buttery, timeless composition, bending it to the greater shape of a given feature’s strengths.
There are many moments reminiscent of the intangible Peter CottonTale Chicago Soul throughlines that made 2018’s super-collaboration, Forever Always (and 2020’s subsequent CATCH) one of the most cohesive, inventive post-genre compositions in memory. Even as The Vibetape flows laterally at the will of its dynamic guests, layers of analogue and digital sound design hold the project’s shape. All For You opens to a yearning soul sample and a tumbling down into instrumental immersion before Felly rattles of a brace of emotionally entrenched verses and Tia P. dives in on a warm hook. The Main Squeeze underlines the whole thing with its consistent jams that perennially bleed of the timelessness of Soul music and Neo-Soul modernity.
A positivist R&B energy that pulls a listener into something like the early days of Leven Kali’s bubbly solo career, or The Internet’s warmly energized anthems, makes a track like Real – pulsing with the upbeat crooning of tiffany Gouché and the poetic leanings of Abhi The Nomad – recently nostalgic. Triangulated between instrumentation, vocals, and lyricism, the track – like the project at large – is an exhibition of the pinnacle of auditory balance in a post-genre world.
Even when leaning hard onto one end or the other of its rapped-to-sung feature space, The Vibetape remains steady, thanks to the dynamic nature of The Main Squeeze and Smile High himself. Take Love Lost, where a slow-paced, orchestrally instrumental foundation and the chimes of backing vocalists sets the stage for the most downtempo, emotionally charged cut of the project. And, in the other direction, where throughout I Love It When You, Chuck Inglish and Lando Chill embark on a quickfire clinic of deep-toned, punchline-heavy rhymes, The Main Squeeze follows suit with a quirky guitar riff and the most unique beat anywhere on the project.
It's in that dynamism to adjust on the fly to what has to be the most stacked collaborative list on any album at any moment throughout 2023, that makes Smile High and The Main Squeeze such a force of musical breadth – so worthy of the rangy indefinability of the word vibe. For its part, The Vibetape’s vibe can certainly be framed by persistent positivity, unrelenting Soul, and a certain timelessness, regardless of which vocalists and rappers are hopping aboard any given track. And because of the timelessness – handily curated by a collection of artists, with Smiley at their core, that have amassed collective decades of experience in collaborating and creating – it’s a project that defies not only the musical moment that we’re in, but the idea of musical moments at large. Had it been released at any moment in recent history, The Vibetape would have absolutely fit the vibe for a range of listeners further reaching than most.
The Vibetape also features Davion Farris, Cocoa Sarai, 6lack, QUIN, Chloe Angelides, Marieme, Dom 2 Timez, Def Sound, and Skywalker, and sees all of its tracks accompanied by a live live-performance visualiser shot scenically on the deck at the band’s house overlooking LA. Every bit of the project’s multi-media rollout is worth listens and views to any fan of, well… just about any kind of damn good music.