Dreams have always been intriguing to us. You don’t have to search too far to see how much praise was given to Inception last year, a film dealing with dreams inside of dreams and mind-bending mysteries. Much like with Christopher Nolan’s film, dreams are the focal point of Oneirology, the latest project crafted by the critically-acclaimed Cunninlynguists. While the disc has some unsure experimentation, it does not disappoint and it proves that the group has continued to evolve with their sound.

The dream concept is carried out inventively, from the cover art to the album and track titles. It is also heard in Kno’s samples and through the rhymes. Drawing more parallels to Inception, this isn’t an album that will be easily digested in one viewing or one listening session. The CL brethren made it a point to infuse their album with various references to dreams. For example, the first track title, “Predormitum,” refers to the moments right before sleep knocks us out and the album title references dreams through a term used in Greek mythology. However, they also add even more obvious references. For instance, other track titles include “Darkness (Dream On),” “Dreams” and “Shattered Dreams.” The emcees find creative ways to tie it all together in their verses, as well. Natti uses “Get Ignorant” to note, “that American dream makes me wake up and scream.” In fact, the word “Dreams” pops up in nearly every track.

Sure, it breaks up the theme, but the tracks that don’t deal with dreams are possibly the best series of cuts on the disc. “Hard As They Come (Act I)”, “Murder (Act II)” and “My Habit (I Haven’t Changed)” are all conceptual tracks that don’t deal with the main concept of the album. Still, each track is strong with every emcee (including guests Freddie Gibbs and Big K.R.I.T.) spitting as the personification of something else in the tradition of Nas on “I Gave You Power.” “Hard As They Come (Act I)” has Natti performing as alcohol, Gibbs as crack and Kno as HIV. “Murder (Act II)” has K.R.I.T. rhyming as a president (perhaps George W. Bush) and Natti flowing as corruption within religion. Finally, they continue this on “My Habit (I Haven’t Changed)” where Natti and Deacon rhyme as addicts, only their drug is music and it’s all explained with witty wordplay as Natti rhymes, “Relapse itch hit, I’m scratching like deejays / Tracks in my veins show I’m fiendin’ for replays / You say free bass? I’ll be right there / I like mine with a nice cut and light snare.”

For Oneirology listeners, the cinematic special effects come in the form of Kno’s skillful production. Even for fans of lyricism, Kno’s beats sometimes overshadow the rhymes and his instrumentals sometimes drown the vocals out. Still, Kno creates a perfect ambiance for an album about dreams, using a mixture of dark, melancholy tones with whimsical pieces that work together to make this album worthy of listens on the strength of the production alone. He utilizes samples well, sequencing cuts almost seamlessly. For an example of this, listen to the first two songs, where Notorious B.I.G.’s vocals mix with the next song’s sample to complete a sentence that works with the theme. “It was all…It was all…Darkness.” Whether creating the perfect soundscape to spit over or showing off on an instrumental interlude, Kno is able to bring forth intriguing beats, as usual.  

For an album with so much going for it, there are still some glaring issues here. Kno’s production, as addressed, sometimes takes over and drowns even his own rhymes out. At other points, it seems the album can get repetitive, stretching the concept out further than necessary. For instance, “Enemies with Benefits” seems like a throw-in and it almost hurts the emcees to have Tonedeff stealing the show on the track with that scene jacking verse. Sure, this may be nitpicking, but that may also be a testament to how high they’ve raised the bar for themselves.

In the end, Oneirology is an album that may serve as an alarm to those still unaware of Cunnin’s talent. This project combines creative sounds with inventive rhymes and stands as an example of how a great group can come together to craft a well-made album worthy of praise. Using their attention to detail on this release, they’ve managed to build on an already impressive catalog of music and it will not disappoint too many longtime supporters of the crew.