Cali Cartier Is the Best Dog and Needs You to Know Right This Second

Cali Cartier wants you to know something: they're the best. During their Appleville set, Cali made that quite apparent as they cut off their own performances to advertise themself and this album; the very first “song” they performed at the festival was composed of nothing more than them rapping the URL to their website.

Aaron Cartier Best Dog album cover

Aaron Cartier Best Dog album cover courtesy of Dog Show Records

Now, with all this talk of being the best, you might be wondering: “Best what?” Let me answer your question with a question: does it matter? Cali's the best rapper, the best producer, best local artist, and now they want you to know that they are, indisputably, the best dog. There are, of course, a few things that they will concede: umru, for example, is responsible for “the best saxophone.” Lewis Grant? The best Lewis Grant. But for the most part, as far as Cali Cartier is concerned, they are THE best rapper, THE best producer, and THE best dog. And with this 13 track album, they're ready to try to prove it.

Clocking in at just 25 minutes, Aaron Cartier Best Dog is dense, heavy, and earthshaking — like if 2019’s CARTIER EVIL grew venomous, deadly fangs. Almost every single one of these tracks finds Cali Cartier crashing through walls of distorted bass and clattering percussion, and most of them find them working with the album’s principal producer, Dylan Brady, as the two work to create the strongest entry in Cartier’s discography so far.

Unfortunately, this album succumbs to something I like to call: “the first track is sorta disappointing and I think it would’ve been better if it had been left off of the project” syndrome. This isn’t exclusive to just this album, in fact, it’s sometimes mistakenly diagnosed in albums like 1000 gecs or My Agenda. Track one, “THIS + THAT,” clocks in at just 42 seconds, making it the shortest song on an album filled with already short songs. Perhaps it’s for the best. While it’s not bad by any means — after all, who doesn’t love some autotuned harmonies over some crunchy 808s? — it also isn’t quite pleasant, and I feel as though it would’ve been better if it had been omitted in favor of opening the album with one of the more abrasive, aggressive tracks.

Those sorts of tracks are where Cali Cartier and the track’s respective producers really shine. Cartier is nothing if not charismatic, and their delivery necessitates a beat to match in terms of energy and swagger. And when those conditions are met, he’s able to totally wreck shop. “BANANAS” is a clear example — taking a 645AR-esque approach to their vocals, Cali Cartier emerges with a track that made me not only headbang, but also fear for my life. The Dylan Brady-provided synths do a lot to add to the track’s paranoid atmosphere. Meanwhile, over the minimal, booming, 8-bit-esque instrumental that Archoninfinity and daydream nathan cooked up for “IPHONE,” Cali Cartier presents some of their most confident bars and impressive delivery on the record. Just one track later, courtesy of umru and Yung Skrrt, Cartier gets to completely let loose over the monstrous, metallic “KING TAP,” which finds them in top form as they asserts themself atop the game: “Cartier been made it happen / Making moves on automatic.” And on “WINDOW,” Dylan Brady provides what is essentially a hyphy beat on steroids, and Cartier readily tears it apart. A few cursory listens make evident what was already clear: nearly all of the album’s highlights are found in bass heavy, aggressive beats that serve more as a platform for Cali Cartier’s unique delivery than as showpieces of their own.

The features are no slouches either — a great relief, considering that there’s only two of them. TYMMI keeps up with an absolutely excellent Cali Cartier verse on “SHINE” by matching Cartier’s quick, yet subdued delivery with a slow, yet aggressive and confident cadence — both rappers ultimately body the track. William Crooks’ contribution to the smooth, yet hollow feeling “EVERYDAY” adds a bit of humor and variance to the track — his bars, which somehow give the feeling of tumbling over each other, are a marked contrast to Cartier, who locks into a flow and melody for their part. However, although Cali is not outmatched on these tracks, there are a few where they fall victim to something else entirely: his own experimentation.

There are a few tracks on here where Cartier’s gambles don’t pan out in their favor. Opener “THIS + THAT” aside, there is also “GO OUTSIDE” to contend with. A MIDI-piano nightmare, featuring little more than a clap, a triangle, some hi-hats, an 808, and dissonant, skittering keys, Cartier seems to slip over the beat, their bars sometimes cutting off before they actually finish rather than locking to it, as they had on “KING TAP” or “IPHONE.” The Dylan Brady-assisted “TOP DWN!” is chaotic to the point of confusion — the song’s rhythm is difficult to pin down, and Cartier ’s ad libs, at times, are louder than their actual lead vocals. And their nasal delivery seems to finally do them in on “RUNNIN DA ROAD,” in which Cali Cartier eschews actually rapping in favor of a singular melody and extremely drawn out syllables (they do the latter on “98 DEGREES” as well, but with more swagger, flamboyance, and greater success).

“RUNNIN DA ROAD,” “TOP DWN!,” and “98 DEGREES” all made their debuts at PC Music’s Appleville event two months ago. Back then, the album wasn’t out, and we had little idea what to make of these three strange, yet undoubtedly unique tracks. And now that we see the bigger picture in the form of Aaron Cartier Best Dog, Cartier’s vision has become a bit clearer. In tapping into the resources and community around them (especially those of PC Music, HELLA 314, and Dog Show Records), Cali Cartier has expanded their sound and developed some seriously good ideas as a result. While this project could have benefitted extensively from some cutting and trimming, the strength Cali Cartier demonstrates throughout the record is more than enough to outweigh the more lackluster tracks, and it won’t be long before they come out swinging with a new, even more impressive project.

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