Donnie Trumpet’s Ambitious “Surf” Is Almost What I Hoped For

Let me start by saying that Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s Surf is a pretty great album. The production is lush and warm, and the number of hands on this album is absolutely unreal. Free albums aren’t supposed to feature this much hard work, dedication, and coordination. It’s remarkable, especially for a bunch of scrappy kids from Chicago. These musicians are all my age, and they’re making huge, positive moves. I wish more artists worked with this kind of sincerity and conviction.

I suppose the sentiment stated above probably contributed to my slight disappointment with this album.

Just prior to Thanksgiving 2014, the first single from Surf appeared in the form of “Sunday Candy”. The ode to grandma anthem blew me away with its instrumentation, melody, and heartfelt lyrics. How many artists are better at covering relatable, humble topics than Chance The Rapper? Who knew a jazzy hip-hop song about Chance’s grandma would end up being the feel-good song of 2014? Who knew the subsequent music video would be one of my favorite pieces of art this year? Seriously, watch that video and try not to fall in love with these kids. There’s a nauseating level of talent and creatively being lobbed around.

So when the outfit returned with a full-length effort last Thursday that felt like more of a ground rule double than a home run, it’s hard not to leave with a twinge of disappointment.

A Reddit user succinctly described it as feeling like a 52-minute interlude, which seems apt. For as focused and soaring as “Sunday Candy” is, its album companions feel loose and meandering. Perhaps it’s the free-flowing nature of jazz rubbing off, but I was hoping for more bonafide hits and fewer cuts that feel this fleeting.

It’s like butter. Delicious and smooth as hell, but not something you’d want to make a meal out of. I think I just got served a plate of butter.

Okay, now that I’ve successfully hated on an album I honestly enjoy, I should note that there are a handful of successes here. The aforementioned “Sunday Candy” is still phenomenal. “Nothing Came To Me” feels bizarre and jazzy enough to be a 21st century Bitches Brew piece. The melody it stumbles into by the end makes the wandering worth it.

“Familiar” is the summer smash I was hoping for. Between a quintessential Chance The Rapper contribution and verses from Migos’ Quavo and Chicago’s own King Louie, this is going to be quickly inserted into all of my summer playlists.

“Go” is wonderfully random. It’s got a beat that’s all over the place and the absolutely unexpected appearances of Francis Starlight and Chicago native Mike Golden. This counts as the “didn’t see that one coming” moment we were promised in the buildup to this release.

Is this something I’ll listen to all summer? Yeah, probably. Is it something I’ll be coming back to for years to come? Probably not. Was it fair to place that kind of expectation on this album? Probably not.

There’s an incredible amount of ambition in these 52 minutes. To be honest, any shortcomings are smoothed over by the fact that Donnie Trumpet and gang are bursting at the seams with potential. We’re not all the way there yet, but it’s gonna happen.

Take Surf for what it’s worth, because these kids are positioned for a home run.