SALUTATIONS TO THOSE WHO ROSE ABOVE THEIR STATION – Record Reviews By Brian Nicholson

Featured in Issue 3

Odwalla 88 - Lilly 23 jump drive (Vague Reference)

Photo by Alexandra Brandon

Photo by Alexandra Brandon

In December I had a dream where I conflated this duo with the stars of Broad City. Both capture female friendship, and had a big year in 2014, when the culture at large realized they did not see that phenomena depicted too often. The distinction between a punk band and a sitcom, however, is that the former is not expected to be welcoming. When Odwalla 88 perform, any looks into the audience are defiant, and only the glances between the two of them are meant to communicate any kind of connection. Their hermeticism is isolated from expectations of song structure, and many songs are defined largely by opening and closing with the same line, to bracket their body apart from the next.

Samples are used for percussion, short bursts of noise more varied and chaotic than a drum hit would be. The melodies of the vocals atop these beats are simple enough. They seem more like inflected speech than singing: I don’t think they ever push themselves more than the slight upturn in pitch indicative of asking a question. It’s the vocal fry of a pop star’s speaking voice. The cadence of the repetition of the samples, short and brutal, makes the chants feel like they are sampled in their own way, from a private set of inside jokes about voices performing a role preordained. There is at least one lyric here that I registered as originating from someone else: “She lives in my lap,” from Andre 3000. Spoken at the same time, there is a sense of solidarity in the shared inside joke, a private language shared between them. The emotional range on display reaches from incredulousness in anger to smirks of amusement, vulnerability is apparent only through what defensiveness implies.

There’s a complicated argument I want to make here. Naomi Klein’s new book argues that Republicans, who deny climate change and say Democrats only seek to undermine capitalism when they bring it up, have a better understanding of what protecting the environment would entail than Democrats who suggest it can be achieved through decisions made by consumers. Consider also the Margaret Atwood quote, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” I think when boys-club comedians argue that “women aren’t funny,” they offer that denial out of fear, because they understand that humor connects people, whereas others try to reduce its power to merely an impotent way to blow off steam from the tension society creates. I think the possibility exists that through satire, mockery, and indifference, patriarchy might be undermined, although capitalism would persist to make a saleable product out of any object produced by a culture of rebellion.

I am reminded of a quote from synth-builder Peter Blasser: “What comes after USA? USB.” This USB’s “tracklist” alternates between jpegs, video clips a few seconds long, and mp3s of songs in the one-to-three-minute range. One of these is the band’s best song, the one where they “I’m The Mary” a bunch. There’s also 3.83 gigs of space still available, for any other content you wish to carry with you.


Bobby Donnie - Plays The Bobby Donnie Songs (Ehse Records)

Photo by Leta Dunham

Photo by Leta Dunham

I like how the first song on this record features Stephanie Barber saying “Joanie got the rhythm,” in reference to the band’s guitarist, while she herself bangs the drums. Her rhythms on the kit stay pretty rudimentary, generally focusing on one or two drums for each song section, like a military marching band. In this stripped-down space, Joan Sullivan’s riffs are emphasized to the point where certain songs end up feeling like stoner metal. This isn’t something apparent watching the band perform live, or in the demo recordings that appeared on the internet. The songs, in a more trebly context, come off as bubbly and buoyant, seltzer rock for people whose ideal method of travel is a colorful hot air balloon.

They’re a spare band, and any imagined layers of caked on sludgy distortion feel flaked off to reveal a wire framework, as if the physical mass of a doom band that can barely move has fallen away to reveal a healthy human. The clouds of weed smoke have dissipated and now the atmosphere is just one of maniacal energy, the air charged with goofy electricity, in the form of their voices, rising above in a higher register than everything else. Their voices, trilling and expressive, comes off as transcendent in the context of the simplistic and minimal arrangement. It achieves an effect not dissimilar to what’s found on the Animal Collective record Sung Tongs albeit with electric guitar riffs instead of acoustic strums. The lyrics are straightforward enough to not dwell in any emotional space so much as delineate all that there could be. The longest song here is based around the principle “There’s so much pleasure; there’s so much sorrow.” The pleasures of this record exist in considered awareness of emotional realities that complicate them. Another song begins with a sexual come-on that doubles as a musical overture: “It’s about to get weird in here, I’m about to get weird on you.” Sounds great.


Future - Monster (datpiff.com)

future

I wanted to believe that the love between Future and Ciara would last. A few songs into this mixtape, it became clear that relationship had ended, and dude was not taking it particularly well, deep in self-loathing, medicating with party drugs. Halfway through “Throw Away,” the beat changes into a separate song, as if half-heartedly burying what he has to say. “Last night I came home to a menage/I got my dick sucked and I was thinking about you.” The autotune effects on his vocals come out like slurred speech, making these lyrics seem like they’re being spat from the middle of a blackout, and he does not realize how much he’s incriminating himself, like he might on some level think that saying “I’m high on molly and seeing ghosts” and “I just drank another eighth of codeine” function as things appropriate to say in the context of party music. Lil Wayne shows up on “After That” to offer some casual misogyny, of the sort that might be useful to cheer up a broken-hearted bro: “She sucks my dick/We don’t kiss after that,” only for Future to counter with “I’m living this life of sin/And what comes after that,” like he is determined to ruin any party, even one he’s throwing for himself.

Future had made himself out to be a romantic, on previous albums, writing love songs that were genuinely moving, even though their setting, the club, is a soul-deadening wasteland. The sentiment of “I Won” received some flak for viewing a romantic partner as a trophy won, another material success. But what’s interesting to me is how that conflation now means a partner’s leaving functions as a total repudiation of any material gain, that in total dejection all the symbols of wealth now just seem like destructive clutter. The synths are seasick, hellish. The DJ branding of producers announcing “Metro Boomin wants some more” at the outset of a track, always indifferent to a song’s intentions, now seems straight-up mocking. While “Turn On The Lights” was dismissive of a woman who “don’t even drink Coronas”, now it’s clear that Future’s fondness for “dirty Sprite forever” is the result of an addiction he can’t really stop. The script is flipped. While plenty of rap has discussed dealing drugs as a metonym for making money as a way to escape from systemic poverty, I can think of no record by a figure as comparatively large as Future to specifically address the circularity of post-wealth drug addiction creating problems the user then uses more drugs as an attempt to escape from.