Thursday, January 10, 2008

What’s That Sound?

There’s an old joke about a devout Catholic limo driver who is tasked with delivering the Pope from the airport to his hotel on one of his many trips to the US. After picking up His Holiness, the chauffer is so overcome by the experience that he faints. Concerned for the man’s well-being, the Pope places the unconscious driver in the back of the limo to rest and sets about trying to drive himself to his lodging. Along the way the Pope gets lost, accidentally runs a red light and is pulled over by a state trooper. The cop radios in to let the station know he’s pulled over a limo, and then, seconds later, radios back in to tell them he did not write a ticket. When asked why chose to let the driver slide he simply replies that the limo held a very important person. When pushed as to who this celebrity is the cop finally exclaim, “Look, I don’t know, but the fuckin’ Pope is his driver!”

The moral, of course, is that you are often judged by the company you keep. I’ve reflected on this simple truth myself recently, and, though I choose to see many of my own minor connections to some pretty impressive people as mere happenstance, there really is an air of legitimacy to the proposition.

In that regard, all you really need to know about Whore Moans' recent release Episode II: Attack of the Moans is that it features beloved nerdcore icon MC Frontalot. All other facts and suppositions are pretty much unnecessary. And yet that won’t stop me from stating them in my own indubitable fashion.
  1. “Opening Salvo”: Apparently I’m not the only one who dislikes weak intro tracks. Whore Moans starts the album off with a bang, dropping his hyper-literate rhymes over a minimalist beat. His brazen demand for other rappers to innovate may come off as idle braggadocio, but even in the span of this two-minute track he proves his lyrical mettle.
  2. “Don’t Feel a Thing”: Moans easily secures his nerd cred by rhyming over a glitchy beat based on the Yoko Kanno penned “Rain.” (Yes, I do own a Cowboy Bebop OST. You can stop looking so surprised now.) Steve Conte’s pained vocal delivery plays nicely against Whore Moans’ flow, which manages to sound deliberate and measured even when he occasionally stumbles over an extra syllable. He also displays his unique gift for slipping in the slightest hints of political commentary at the least obvious of times. My only real complaint about this song is the chorus; don’t get me wrong, it continues Moans’ already established motif of lyrical sarcasm, but it comes off a little thin and kind of uninspired.
  3. “Critical Damage (feat. Jonathan Toth from Hoth)”: This one marries another round of non-traditional instrumental backing with some genuinely creative hip-hop, but seems to falter a bit on the early bridge. Whore Moans somehow manages to keep his annunciation crystal clear, even when his flow shifts into hyperdrive. This is another super-short track that charms without overstaying its welcome.
  4. “Be Impressed”: Four tracks in, Whore Moans really hits his stride with “Be Impressed.” With a beat and accompanying lyrics so saturated in echo as to make Black Sabbath blush, Moans calls out friends and family who have totally missed the boat on the nature of his smart and playful rhymes. Taking the piss out of mainstream rap by enumerating its shortcomings is neither a new concept within the bounds of nerdy hip-hop nor a particularly difficult feat, but Whore Moans manages to do it beautifully with the help of the sing-along chorus that you’ve been looking for this whole time.
  5. “Miss Midwest”: “Miss Midwest” marks a drastic, not to mention dangerous, change in tone from the preceding tracks. It’s almost as if Whore Moans decided to intentionally throw us a curve after five songs of good-natured ribbing and subtle self-reflection. This track describes that girl we all know: the one who’s been emotionally beat down by a few dozen too many bad experiences with heartless men. While the beat is genius and the chorus well constructed (if a little distracting), the real beauty of this track is Moans’ delicate storytelling.
  6. “F(r)iend”: Short and anything but sweet, Whore Moans explores the rigors of drug abuse in a one-sided dialog with a friend who’s gone too far. Lyrically, it’s not his tightest joint, but it’s so emotionally resonant that anyone who’s been involved in a similar situation will come away a little surprised by his lyrical honesty.
  7. “Where I Stand on One Night Stands”: This track is almost tailor-made for people who enjoyed Gym Class Heroes’ “Sloppy Love Jingle.” Less rap than wildstyle poetry, it eschews musical hooks for Whore Moans’ own simple recitation. It works.
  8. “Catchy Chorus”: Boasting another guitar-based beat and a groove that damn-near forces you to move, “Catchy Chorus” only falters on – wait for it – the chorus. While not bad, per se, it fails to live up to the power of a song like “Be Impressed.” Still, there’s enough going on to keep you from skipping it, including another jibe at the bloated American Right.
  9. “Mecha Mechanics (feat. MC Frontalot)”: Fun, quotable, and ridiculously geeky, “Mecha Mechanics” is a jam for hardcore anime fans as well as those of us who used to play Voltron at recess blissfully unaware of its nation of origin. More avant-garde backing and a killer verse from Front are sure to please, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t commend Whore Moans on a chorus that’s both poppy and memorable. The musical change-up at the 2:25 mark was a risky production move, but the gamble paid off as it really enhances the track.
  10. “Pizza Pie Drive By (feat. B-Smooth)”: Much like lyrical indictments of the state of rap, songs about how work sucks are a dime a dozen; this one, however, is well worth your time. The verses are a snarky warning to anyone who’s ever gypped the Domino’s guy, and the chorus is borderline Wesley Willis. B-Smooth adds an interesting secondary texture to the vocals. If this song was food, I would devour it.
  11. “Heart”: Otherwise known as “Whore Moans Raps the Broken-Hearted Blues.” A meditation on infatuation that lyrically slips occasionally, but any missteps are more than made up for by an amazing flow that never fizzles.
  12. “What’s That Sound (Feat. Less & Essince)”: A fierce beat and a pair of contributors who truly hold up their end of the track makes “What’s That Sound” the perfect canvas on which Whore Moans paints his tribute to the Midwest underground. A song that is unapologetically hip-hop from top to bottom despite the album’s tendency to mix the genre’s chocolate with the peanut butter of everything from J-pop to straight-ahead rock, this one was made to remind folks just where Moans is coming from. Geographically and otherwise.
  13. “Silence”: Musically haunting and lyrically poignant, this one caps the album in a most unexpected way. While most MCs would end on a club banger, Whore Moans elaborates on themes that he’s thus far only hinted at – those of loss and loneliness – in a manner that’s both personal and universal. Yet, after two minutes the track ends, and I have to say it left me wanting. Thankfully, after a near interminable couple of minutes of… um… actual silence, Moans comes back with what is either a semi-conceptual continuation or a hidden track. Either way, it slakes the thirst. Bringing back the sardonic style that the album has so expertly established, this one seems a bit off-the-cuff, which suits the track perfectly. Ambient background sounds and Whore Moans patented motor-mouthery form a striking contrast that takes Episode II home.
Why it’s easy to think of rap as a beast wholly its own, it is, like all music, part of a greater evolutionary whole. With strong roots in Jamaican toasting, which, in turn, is an outgrowth of the verbal tradition of the classic griot, the lit nerd in me will always see rap as an amazingly compelling part of mankind’s predilection for poesy.

Yes. Rappers are poets.

While many would argue that the type of contemporary rap with which we are presented daily (by the likes of MTV and Top 40 radio) has lost sight of this aspect, I’m not deluded enough to think that I can bring anything more to that conversation. So let me just say that, in a world where hip-hop lyricism is sometimes only as important as a soundbite for a ringtone, Whore Moans is unafraid to embrace his inner poet.

Stylistically somewhere between the surreal slant of Busdriver and the slice-of-life musings of Travis McCoy, Moans is literate without always being literal. It’s an interesting combination that may not work for everyone, but, at least with regard to nerdy heads, it surely hits more often than it misses.

His flow, though practiced, is by no means perfect, and his lyrics, while interesting and relatable, do occasionally seem forced, but his vocal contributions are superlative overall. There are also some issues on the production end, mostly due to the wholly independent nature of album, but these minor flaws help to reinforce a lo-fi aesthetic and DIY ethic that makes Episode II: Attack of the Moans stand out.

If you’ve ever geeked out to Sage Francis, explored the far reaches of sci-fi space with Kool Keith, or wished Beefy had never quit working at Papa Murphy’s, then this is an album for you.

“In your head like a CAT scan.”

4 comments:

Doc Pop said...

great review, but there is something left unclear to me. Is this a free download, or a cd? Is it currently available, if so where? Stuff like that.

Z. said...

Wow, Doc, I did sort of leave a major question mark there, didn't I?
/facepalm

Moans is currently selling 10 of the album's tracks individually via Snocap for 99 cents a pop, and you can also pre-order the CD version of Episode II: Attack of the Moans and receive a copy of his Live at the Ground Floor CD for a mere 10 bones. Both options are available at the Whore Moans MySpace.

Church said...

Whew. Thought I was being dense.

Yeah, EVERY review should START with a 'where to get it' sentence. Because, frankly, reviews are most interesting if you've heard the item being reviewed. It's just human nature.

That said, I'm intrigued by this album.

Whore said...

tis actually available for buying now. its not a presale, i just never updated the words on the link. laziness be an assbiter