Wednesday, April 6, 2011

14. Album Review: Witness-"The Everafter LP"

Eyedea & Abilities. 
Brother Ali. 
     The Twin Cities area is a peculiar breeding ground for such talent. Usually artists travel to already established Hip-Hop Meccas, such as Atlanta, Los Angie-area, New York City or Detroit. 

Kid Rock and guns, brought to you by Detroit. 

     Minneapolis is notable for providing a certain quality, attitude and ambiance in its Hip-Hop, utilizing predominantly, from what I've heard, searingly conscious lyricism and unorthodox production. Witness, known by his mother as John Parr, having moved from Morrisville, Pennsylvania, (which is in the middle of Bumfuck, Nowhere with a population of under 10,000) to Minneapolis, is one of the most recent inductees in the Twin Cities' ever-growing legacy. After a string of EP's (Ever Since, Evermore and the incongruous .45 Sweetheart, all of whom's cover art feature the same crestfallen looking lady), in 2010 Witness loosed from his cerebral loins The Everafter LP and Lord have mercy, is it a beaut.
     On a side note, also reigning from Morrisville is Witness's fellow Caucasian emcee, Asher Roth.

Often, I also find myself brushing my teeth adorned in nothing but beads after a hard night's ruckus. Finally, a White rapper for my generation. 

     I just find that interesting, how two completely different styles and personas can stem from the same small community. Anyway, to the album. 
1. Twenty Three
     The first thing that needs to be addressed, is Parr's voice and delivery. I've heard it described as "smoky", "smooth" and "throaty", all of which are applicable adjectives, but fail to deliver the proper praise. Perhaps the most distinctive voice of any current up-and-coming emcee, Parr's silky flow has the odd ability of viscerally allowing the listener to picture his mouth in their mind's eye. I know that sounds odd, but once you hear his intonation, the brief dips into guttural rasping, the confessional, cypher-in-a-library-esque volume, mixed with the wry, hushed delivery; you'll know what I'm talking about. You can just see his mouth twisting and turning up at the sides, as if he's trying to avoid chuckling throughout the song. It's extremely listenable.
     Twenty Three is a solid album-starter, establishing the wistful, sardonic and self-deprecating approach Parr utilizes early on, also introducing the album's signature jazzy, chilled instrumentals. It feels appropriate for Parr to begin with a nostalgic jam, for in order to get a feel for his current mind state, some background is necessary, background that will be dispensed strategically throughout this LP. Emancipator milks it, as the horns are beautiful, especially when they come back in at 1:32, and the rolling snare is simultaneously hard-hitting and airy. The lyrics are tastefully tender, without being too heavy-handed or heartbreaking. My only quibble is the abrupt transition into the next track, the starting horns of which will knock the freckles off of your face.

Memorable lines:
"Before the days that never ended descended to a day job
The Enemy was Public, the Soul spoke De La
Broke like a clay vase, when charity left town
So we were on our own 'til our reality checks bounced"
2. Cheap Date (Dive Bar Blend)
     Disclaimer: ration your listening to this song, because the shit is dangerous. I've had to resist the temptation to play it ad infinitum, for fear it may become an ad nauseam listening experience instead. The beat is tremendous, perfectly grooving and layered with exponentially more catchy additions every 8 bars. It goes like this. At first, the verse works some choppy guitar riffs, accompanied by a playful electric piano. Then come the horns, whose glory is accentuated by a little "whooo" vocal effect. I begin to lose my shit at this point. Then a shrill trumpet breaks through, knocking any already tattered remains of my socks that may be left, completely off. Then the verse is done. And you get to listen to it twice more.
     The setting of the song, is that of a generic dive bar, in which Parr devotes each verse to a respective barfly. First, his attentions are directed towards your typical class-with-a-side-of-trash girlie, whom he picks apart with increasingly harsh judgements. Next, Parr shifts his gaze to an adulterous older man, criticizing the pretentious, innocuous manner with which he uses to hit on younger women. Stringing these verses together is the ironic, mumbled dismissal in which Parr states, "I'll take the time to get to know him/her sometime". In the last verse, Parr faces his own scrutiny, and spares not the rod. This song is the shit.
Memorable lines:
The whole thang, but especially:
"I'll take the time to get to know me
I was in the dive bar bathroom, listening to last call
I'm looking at a broken mirror like a glass ball
An' double vision was effecting the judgement 
But I wouldn't recognize that reflection if it wasn't"
"Stereotypcially skinny, disheveled White boy
Music Elitist, guaranteed to hate the DJ
He's trying to stress that he's so damn different
I bet he didn't even notice he's he cliches he hates"
3. Sunburn 
     In contrast to the first transition, the switch from Cheap Date to Sunburn is as smooth as can be. The piano is gorgeous and Parr's inflection is all over the place, dramatically dropping and raising along with the twinkling keys. The subject matter is pretty terrifically executed, as Parr bleakly describes a state of existential dissociation, but with an underlying sense of optimism. Also, one of the best variations on Nas's "sleep is the cousin of death" quotable I've yet to hear.
Memorable lines:
"They tell me sleep is the cousin of death
So I would guess that a dream is the daughter of sleep
Sometimes I wonder whether Witness even exists
Or if it's just a dream that was caught in the beat
They're like, 'kid, you got it going on'
Tell me that my flow is strong
Now I'm in the basement 'til the break of dawn, making songs
Seeking validation from the Hip-Hop heads
Like the praise and adulation is only thing I got left"
Fuck me sideways.
4. Watercolors
     You know George Benson's "The Changing World" sample from Common's "I Used to Love H.E.R.", right? Or Labi Siffre's "I Got The" from Eminem's "My Name Is"? How about "Hung Up On My Baby" from Isaac Hayes, which was used in Geto Boys' "Mind Playing Tricks On Me"? All great guitar-based samples, used to make great songs. Add Watercolors to that list. I'm not sure what is being sampled here, but I know that:
1. Witness takes from a lot of Jazz records, even those of South American origin.
2. It's awesome.
     The lick comes in, fades into a tantalizing silence and then drops with full force. On my first listen, I was already expecting something juicy, given the tease, but not an instrumental with such a high degree of stank. Catches you off guard. Like a knife attack.

Tall, dark and handsome. This looks like one of those "good" problems. 

     The lyricism is especially orotund and heavy on allegory. A heartfelt, but distant reflection on a strained romance.
Memorable lines:
"I was too ambitious and too damn timid
And too thrilled when the glass was half filled to wonder what was in it
But you're a cynic when the magic still exists
'Til you stifle all the winds that send the daffodils adrift"
5. Intermission 

Kindly disregard the subtle racist appropriation.

     11 minutes into an already short album, and we're dealt an intermission. Thank goodness. I was 'bout spent. At least it's pretty.
Memorable lines:
6. Home Tonight
     I'm not crazy about this instrumental, but the conveyance of Parr's "on the road" lifestyle is well done. Something rubs me the wrong way about the thought of this. I know he's going for a globe-trotting sense of community, but maybe I've just lived in the Bible Belt for too long to empathize.

Not to be confused with a chastity belt.

     It's the thought that counts. Parr throws some gravel on his flow and it sounds good, but feels a little over exaggerated at times.
Memorable lines:
"I used to be a skinny loser that could write a thesis
And I'm still a skinny lower, but I'll rip your mic to pieces
But that's a right I keep refusing to waive
I punch lines so hard that I'm bruising the page"
7. Two Step
     Parr completely eschews any traditional chorus in this track, opting instead to spit many much bars. If it wasn't already evident that Parr is heavily influenced by literature, Two Step will function as the gospel for any remaining heretics. Thick, sonorous bowings from what I suspect is a cello groan in the beginning, setting the tone for the song's gloomy meditation on the deterioration of a past relationship. And it reminds me of Dave Matthews.

Dave doing his best "Come To Daddy" impression.

Memorable lines:
"Always mourning after with resentment in a capsule
She's getting fragile, I see it in her nudity
Says she doesn't feel like she used to feel usually"
"It's days like that make women like her perfect
And women like her that make men like me nervous"
"And I stumble through a sentence, she reacts with a grin
When I dream, there ain't a soul to bring me back with a pinch
I could act like a pimp, I could be a soulmate
I could learn her geography and plot my escape" 
8. Sylvia Plath
     An ode to the potentially tenacious nature of woman. But whereas some artists try to get that "I'm on to you, ladies" attitude across, Parr just comes across as savvy and appropriately wary. No condescension here. The mournful hornfuls of soul and sharp beat work well. Sylvia Plath, the namesake of this track, was a prominent practitioner of confessional poetry in the 1950's and 60's, whose work, as I've deduced from the opinions of various aficionados, is quite good. I haven't as much time as I'd like to read poetry, because I listen to goddamn Hip-Hop all day, but the fact that Plath committed suicide in 1963 by way of "oven" has me interested enough to further investigate her. I'm always down to peruse the ruminations of a suicidal woman.

Just kidding. That's a sad, undignified way to go. Rest In Pieces, Sylvia Plath.

Memorable lines:
The whole jam is damn good lyrically, but this bit in particular gives me the shiveries.
"This sound is dedicated to devils in dresses
That collect the heads of sexist men to decorate their necklace
Adorn their breasts with broken hearts and medals of bitterness
Trading angel wings so they can share a pair with Icarus
In the midst of this, she sits alone, burning sandalwood 
No return on the girl in the mirror labeled damaged goods"
Oo, that's dirty! The Icarus metaphor really tops it off.
9. Holden Caulfield 
     The thematic equivalent of "Hard in Da Paint", but with, you know, a successful conveyance of the artist's thoughts and feelings. And actual "lyrics". In this track, Parr faces those deprecators of his ambitions, and suggests in high fashion, that without ever making an effort, an artist's, or anyone's for that matter, life is rendered effectively useless. The sole guest appearance on The Everafter LP, Unsung does his thing, comfortably maintaining the belligerently motivational air Parr established in the first verse. I don't much care for the instrumental, but that it's driving can be stated with some confidence.
Memorable lines:
"Too many tend to marinate in safe harbors
Their only contribution is another grave marker
The imminence of night only makes the day harder
Never wore the mask of a self-made martyr"
And, faulty mathematics aside, this line has 'tude.
"I'm giving ten to one odds that somebody resists
But the odds are now doubled 'cause nobody exists"
10. Lower Case
    The strings are a slice. An analysis of this track is difficult, because I can't pin down how this woman that Parr is depicting, truly feels about him. His repetitions of "Darling, don't forget that I'll be leaving in the morning, but baby, don't you worry, 'cause I'm coming back home" at the song's end give me the impression that he's trying hard to convince someone who has already begun the distancing process. Maybe I'm just reading too much into it. A forlorn closer to a pretty forlorn album.
Worth the time?
     The Everafter LP has that unique ability of being about to capture anyone's ear, even those not  acquainted with, or fond, of Hip-Hop. Even if you aren't attracted by slick instrumentals, brutally introspective and endearing lyricism and a voice so velvety that it makes Snoop Dogg sound like a prepubescent drag queen, you'll probably dig at least a couple tracks on here. I do wish that this album were lengthier (an episode of Friends, with commercials, is longer) and more varied in its production at moments, but on the whole, The Everafer LP has firmly established Witness as an emcee for me to regularly look up on Google, in order to stay abreast of his upcoming projects. Or maybe I'll just follow him on Twitter.


Left my laptop at LAX TSA Security is the new "left my wallet in el segundo". God dammit.

Talented and witty? Shee-it.

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