Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Carry That Weight

Earlier this year I decided to devote more of my energies to doing album reviews. Artists were asking for it. Readers were asking for it. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

It also became a decision I immediately regretted.

You see, no matter how many of these fuckers I do, the process doesn't get any easier. It's lengthy, at times even laborious. Not because the albums I receive are bad, mind you: actually quite to the contrary. It's simply that the whole listen-write-listen-write-reread-listen-write-post thing is time consuming, and the more you set out to do the more things fall by the wayside.

Still, I'm not going to do these artists a disservice by simply neglecting to live up to my end of the bargain. (Even if I'm coming through a little later than anticipated.) So expect a lot more reviews over the next quarter. So many that you might just get sick of 'em! ;)

The albums, on the other hand, tend to hold up a good bit better than my occasionally minced words. Today's subject is Ultraklystron's Opensource Lyricist. It marks an interesting new stage in Karl's musical development, yet it also hearkens back to his earlier works.

Interested? You should be.
  1. "Opensource Lyricist"
    The album kicks off with the title track, which seems to be Karl's thesis statement. It's also one of his best songs to date. After honing his craft over the previous years, Ultraklystron seems to have at last mastered the crazy-difficult Jesse Dangerously/Wheelie Cyberman style of lightening fast rapping. He couples these speedy rhymes with sharp keys and smooth D&B. Not to mention a few well placed comp sci references.
  2. "Earn It"
    "Earn It" slows down the tempo a bit and serves as a nice counterpoint to the lead-in. Karl's flow is steady and rehearsed, but still fast enough to impress even diehard Ultraklystron fans. He comes off as the "nerdcore renegade" with this dynamic and slightly glitchy number, which also seems to further explain the ideas behind the album as a whole.
  3. "So Long Kids"
    This is a polished version of an old classic, and, while it's very anime-specific, it's also sharp and biting enough (both vocally and musically) to appeal to those outside otaku circles. It stands as a stark warning to 4Kids Entertainment from an expert voice and an excellent call to arms for his fellow fanboys, even if the chorus is still the tiniest bit awkward.
  4. "Eighty Three"
    As silky as it is chippy, "Eighty Three" displays Karl's smoothness as he waxes poetic about his life and the year of his birth. It boasts rapid-fire pop culture references and more than a few of his most cleverly turned phrases – "unintentional teenage harem" being the chief among them. Whereas the album to this point has mostly been an intro to the work itself, this is an intro to Karl the man.
  5. "Internet"
    With its chirpy (and decidedly eastern sounding) backing and odd vocal cadence in the intro, "Internet" is sort of a musical gamble that, thankfully, pays off. It's a nice change of pace, if a tad thin in places. Still, it's an interesting diversion that explores the "infinite wasteland" of the WWW.
  6. "Decisions"
    Another deviation from expected beat blends well with Ultraklystron's sing-rapping. I found it interesting that it mentions Karl's faith, a subject he seldom references explicitly. But mostly this is a meditation on regret and missed chances, as well as the lingering fear of letting oneself down. In light of his decision to depart from the nerdcore scene last year, it's a bit of an eye-opener: a window into Karl's mind as well as a pontification concerning difficult decisions.
  7. "PAeXpo"
    This is a solid and upbeat exploration of what makes PAX so great: games, tech, music, community, and the mighty Omegathon! It pairs crazy-fast rapping with an ultra-slow chorus for a theme song just waiting to happen.
  8. "Mahou Shonen Theme"
    Where else but on an Ultraklystron record would I be called upon to review a song that I don't even understand the title of?! This is a comic-book interpretation of a day in the life of the artist with the only drawback being that that chorus is a little weak on the call-back. Still, it doesn't sully this fun track.
  9. "MC Urban Planner"
    Chippy and immediately interesting, this song features the oddest braggadocio in nerdcore. It is of particular note because it spotlights Karl's greatest personal strength: that he is comfortable in his own skin. It seems to espouse that he's clean-liver who's unafraid of his patent geekiness, even if he's admittedly a little scatterbrained. There's also a nice use of multi-tracked overlapping vocals, which may be a clever reference to the duality of man. Or simply skillful mixing.
  10. "Void Function"
    Sparse and airy in instrumentation, "Void Function" seems to compliment "MC Urban Planner" by pointing out that Karl, almost oxymoronically, ain't your average nerd! A low-key nerdcore late night driving jam, this song combines reflections on gaming and programming and plain ol' geeking out to form a functional musical mission statement.
  11. "Priceless"
    Ultraklystron's flow is a little off on this one, but his storytelling is top notch. There's an obvious tendency here to try and include a few too many words within each verse couplet, but the song overall still manages a great feel. Its true power is the fantastic chorus that blends warm vocals and thematic keys. It may be a little too j-culture for me, but it's awfully hard to ignore.
  12. "Fashionable"
    This is an excellent follow-up to "Priceless" that boasts a great intro keyboard riffs, not to mention an oddly precognitive reference to the curent crop of stock market woes (as well as an all-too rare verbal conceit to O Brother, Where Art Thou?). It could be construed as a song about fashion without substance, but Karl brings both in equal measure, particularly in the slowed down chorus vocals, which are both creepy and striking.
  13. "Hit Reply"
    Another great stylistic change-up, "Hit Reply" is a track made for Therein Ultraklystron manages a great vocal quality that's snarky and a bit higher toned than usual. It's a minimalist joint that expertly displays his skills. Sure, it's about anime, but that's what he does best!
  14. "Hikikomori"
    This is a wonderful D&B track that pounds into your skull, aided by an assortment of breaks, bloops, and blips. Along with this otaku confessional, we also get a great call-response chorus that's simple but not too. It ably explores the solitary life of a fanboy and leads to a dazzling musical ending.
  15. "Script Kiddie Blues"
    From its sinister sounding opening bars, this song is an unlikely hacker anthem that's confessional, approachable, and enjoyable. With only a few dropped syllables, it's also tight enough to make even Nerd King and DG YTCracker proud.
  16. "Full Disclosure"
    This haunting and funky joint seemingly comes across as condemnation of the lower echelons of nerd culture, which is a little odd for Karl. It's directed firmly at those who are simply posturing, and exemplifies what real nerd life is all about. It's not only a celebration of the nice guy, but also a defense of the atypical nerd who refuses to fall in line with the trappings of "geek chic."
  17. "Coin Figure"
    Okay, the beat for this track is a little pedestrian, but it's hard to ignore the excellent vocal delivery (complete with some more of that nice vocal doubling.) It details the travails of the obsessive collector, and reminds us of the folly of too much stuff. Interestingly, it also has a lot going on under the surface, most obviously a reflection on self-doubt and self-worth.
  18. "Cuteness"
    A remix of this song appeared on Romance Language, and thus should be known to long-time fans. This take is much mellower, but still striking. I can't help but note that Karl sounds a little like T.y.T. on this one with regard to his delivery style. As for the song itself, it's boastful but not obnoxious, and, while I'm not sure about the highly sung chorus, it is certainly a standout track with an amazing beat and backing instrumentation.
  19. "It's the Beat"
    This one can't help but make you smile. It's a little bit Beck, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. All in all, "It's the Beat" is slightly surreal and totally fun: a club-tastic otaku rap from the heart of Seattle. Not your typical nerdcore, but certainly masterfully executed.
  20. "Five to Nine"
    Taking us home is my old favorite Ultraklystron track, and, after another listen, it actually might be my curent fave to boot. It certainly sounds as sweet as it did back in the RT era, and it really ends things on a high note. Despite its heavy anime convention focus, it's still easily relatable even for those of us who don't run the con circuit. It's one of the greatest geek anthems of all time, and Opensource Lyricist couldn't have ended on a better note.
Opensource Lyricist is currently in that odd stage where it's not yet old enough to be a classic, but it's also too old to be a new release. Still, that shouldn't keep you from investing in a copy. It's a solid project. Rock solid. And boasts some of Ultraklystron's best vocal and production work to date.

While it lacks the utter cohesion of a concept work like Romance Language, it's still very much an album of some weight and consistency, and Karl's at his best when he's contrasting the arc of the album with the personal elements he intersperses throughout on a regular basis. It alternates between reflecting on nerdcore and reinventing it, between praising the regular nerd and urging him to evolve, and it touches on each with equal sincerity and skill.

It's not an album that's overly intimate, but it still manages to have that great Ultraklystron musical charm that you've come to expect. His flow is certainly not flawless and he does continue to dwell on the otaku lifestyle, which may be off-putting to some, but these elements also serve as a reminder that Karl is a man just like you or me. A man with hopes and dreams, hang-ups and obsessions and struggles. A man with a story to tell just like the rest of us. Only a fuck of a lot more talented.


Anonymous said...

i heard this guy was a furry confirm/deny

Church said...

Oh geez. Vista is posting.

Karl said...

No, you're think of MC Tanuki or Rev. Badger.

Z. said...

Karl dresses up in some crazy shit, but I'm afraid it's all pretty pedestrian when compared to our animal loving friends. ;)