It’s a good time for musicians who enjoy the in-studio recording process right now, and by the looks of the new video and single from Dom Rivers and Demon Marcus, “Playing Both Sides,” these two artists are definitely having some fun getting lost in the work. “Playing Both Sides” spills out of the speakers slowly, letting go of its melodies with a hesitance that grows endearing after only a few bars. There’s no artificiality to the harmonies, but synth textures dot the landscape the lyrics frolic in so freely. Restrictions? No way. Sonic reticence? Forget about it. Rivers and Marcus are pursuing groove nirvana here, and in my view, they essentially find it.
The focus on the percussion and the rhythm elements in the song is sharp throughout the entirety of the song, but never is there an instance in which the vocals aren’t penetrating the fabric of the instrumentation and colorizing the beat with an emotionality that clearly wasn’t sourced from a desire to sell extra records. There’s some heartache that is still lingering for someone in this release, and between the substance of the groove (and the tempo it’s set to) and that of the music video, this is obvious even to the most novice of critics.
The music video for “Playing Both Sides” will feel a little overly surreal for a lot of viewers at first, but if you strip away the cosmetics of the piece entirely, this too bears its soul on its sleeve in a way that could make anyone feel the pain of the narrative. I love the pace of the shots here, and the way they’re partnered with a seemingly uneven beat in the music, as if alluding to a discord between lovers that could make your heart ache amidst reminiscing in the unbearable angst of loneliness.
There’s not much punch to the bassline in this track (which would be relatively surprising to me if I read this review and then listened to “Playing Both Sides”), but this is solely because there didn’t need to be any. It’s clear that Rivers and Marcus both take the very idea of negative excess seriously enough to give as sterilized a pair of performances as either could for the composition at hand, and where some might look at it as a classic case of overthinking an intricacy in the studio, I think this action – among many others here – is what makes the track and its video ultimately feel so highbrow artistically.
Whether you were aware of either Dom Rivers or Demon Marcus before now is frankly irrelevant when it comes to approaching what they’ve done for “Playing Both Sides” this November; critically, their contribution to the soundtrack of 2020 is absolutely one that I think every hip-hop and alternative R&B fan needs to check out before the season concludes. This song is endlessly provocative and telling of the passion its players have to unleash, and if it were the tip-off for an entire album of collaborations between these two, I would be very pleased to put it quite mildly.
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