Monday, May 04, 2009


Ultraklystron is sort of like James Brown at the end of a classic concert. He announces his departure and makes for the back-stage green room, but he's always got one more musical trick up his sleeve. His latest extended encore takes the form of the fourth estate, a strong, solid album that sees Karl further spread his artistic wings.

Taking its title from Scottish essayist Thomas Carlisle's declaration that the press itself is a fierce social and political force, the album reflects both on Carl's journalistic tendencies and his own experiences with the media since nerdcore has made itself known to the mainstream. It also relies heavily on its own status as a (symbolic, if not wholly literal) swan song. But mostly, like the best of Ultraklystron's writing, it centers chiefly on the artist's own unique personal expediencies.
  1. "death won't stop this"
    Karl kicks off the album with a smooth and atmospheric meditation on art, success and moving on. While not his best work, it's a solid starter that characterizes the album that marks, at least symbolically, his departure from nerdcore.
  2. "greatest"
    Dark, moody and featuring some aggressive braggadocio, "greatest" is a handsome banger. It boasts a quick, stilted flow that makes it an early charmer. Its ending is sharply punctuated, and sets the listener up for the follow-up.
  3. "gothic lolitas"
    This track comes through as a cosplay-obsessed sex rap run through Ultraklystron's traditional PG-rated verbal content filter. It's a convention theme waiting to happen boasting a sharp flow from the otaku MC.
  4. "absolution"
    This tribute to the early days of Toonami is solidly in Karl's wheelhouse, and, though it sounds uncomfortably similar to "Broken Sutures" at times, it's hard to resist. The song is about giving love to Ultraklystron's true anime roots (despite some of the stranger turns of the initial Cartoon Network undertaking), and it comes through as reverent and nostalgic. The "first and only interstellar broadcast and exploration vehicle" deserves no less.
  5. "dissonance"
    "dissonance" marks a nice musical change-up that stills maintains a solid chorus and some great layering in the vocals. It's rare to hear rhymes inviting constructive criticism, but Karl pulls it off in style. A well executed and damned amazing track for anyone who's ever felt out of place.
  6. "outlines"
    A special note to Ultraklystron himself: please do a revised mix of this track with some female harmony vox! Seriously, Karl, the song is crying out for them. Sure, there are a couple of sloppy rhymes and the theme could be seen as a little color-by-numbers for long-time fans, but it's an amazingly pleasing selection that's one or two tweaks away from being an instant classic.
  7. "not a criminal"
    It's no "Fuck the Police," but Ultraklystron's narrative concerning his regular border-crossing shakedowns is distinctively personal. I imagine that this song could prove an easy target for those seeking to paint nerdcore as a pale imitation of more accepted forms of hip-hop, but I give respect to Karl for stepping outside his comfort zone and exploring a unique private conflict.
  8. "dumb crush"
    A creepy lead-in gives way to an impressive, key-heavy backing track as Ultraklystron ponders the line between friends, lovers and fantasy. It's undeniable, sing-along chorus and clever name-drop of Romance Language make it one of my favorites.
  9. "red shift"
    Another frantic rumination on moving on, the album's dominant theme, "red shift" is a mixed bag. While I'm not crazy about the intro/chorus and some of the similes are weak, the beat is nothing short of brilliant. This one still manages to charm despite some flaws.
  10. "carcinogenic"
    An amazing composition that features some of Karl's brightest production, "carcinogenic" gets a bit repetitive at times, but makes up for it with some clever name drops (i.e.: Wheelie Cyberman and Jimmy Carter.) This one alludes to Ultraklystron's real-life relationship with Nursehella, and parleys his own raw emotion into an inspirational joint about learned strength and the power of self-worth.
  11. "webcam girls"
    Wait; did Karl just say "nice cans?!" Someone get me a lyric sheet! Oh, gams! Okay. Still, this is another track for the ladies, which is surprising (but pleasantly so). Karl pushes himself lyrically with rhymes that are a tad shocking but never inappropriate. It's a fine example of a rapper/producer at his danceable best.
  12. "he's a og"
    More proof positive that Karl is a Class-A producer, "he's a og" sees him channel his inner gamer. If there's any justice in the world, this will pop up in the next iteration of Stepmania.
  13. "nerd playa advisory"
    Though the beat choice seems a bit odd, it totally works. So well, in fact, that this song manages to be yet another high-point of the album. Karl skillfully deconstructs nerd archetypes and our cultural misogyny in a warning to geek girls everywhere.
  14. "animate"
    This track, which boasts a beautiful transition from "nerd playa advisory" is phenomenal on all levels! Ultraklystron seems to channel T.y.T. slightly in the verses, but that stylistic change-up goes a long way in making this track stand out. He reps his crew (Toonzone) and preaches the gospel of his long-loved hobbies, thus making this definitive Ultraklystron with a noticeable kick.
  15. "dykmk"
    Above a minimalist beat, Karl once again pays tribute to his muse (his kanojo) in a manner sweetly respectful. While I can't imagine saying that a lady is the Qui-Gon to your Obi-Wan would fly in most relationships, it does seem oddly appropriate in context.
  16. "acta attack"
    Karl's indictment of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement starts on a sense of harsh urgency with a beat that's almost too much, but quickly resolves itself into a shit-hot track full of techy rhymes and surgically precise bombast. It's a call to arms for consumers and a warning to a changing entertainment industry. It addresses threats to freedom and privacy in the digital age in a manner befitting a nerdy rapper.
  17. "surprise surprise"
    This one's an amazingly alluring change of pace that see's Ultraklystron augment his typical vocal delivery fashion and take on some Optimus-style cyborg rhymes. Sharp and catchy with its double-time bridge and fun motor-mouthery, it starts the album's final descent in undeniable style.
  18. "unfamiliar ceiling"
    Above a dense, key-driven beat, Karl again stretches his traditional flow and gets personal. A song for anyone who's ever felt out of place in the public eye or who's ever seen his passions dulled by harsh reality, this one manages to make an uncanny sense of melancholy sound inexplicably inviting.
  19. "game over"
    Ultraklystron raps his "last outburst" over an eerie instrumental bed that winds up the fourth estate ably. It boasts tons of clever self-deprecation as Karl explains why he's done with nerdcore, but also promises that he will be the geek equivalent of Jay-Z; that he'll never truly be out of the game. After listening to this album, that is a satisfying sentiment.
Let there be no mistaking that in the 5 years since the release of Revision4920, Ultraklystron has truly come into his own. From guest spots on compilations and collabs with the likes of Nursehella and Rai to the lovelorn concept album Romance Language to the undeniable personality of Opensource Lyricist, Karl has grown: evolved. Yet through it all he has managed to keep his true self – his values and his own unique worldview – intact.

Still, as much as the fourth estate reflects upon previously established themes from Ultraklystron's songbook, it also seeks to expand upon the formula. Therein Karl comes through as both the quirky, anime-obsessed, self-effacing wordsmith that he's always been and as the steady-handed, technologically-minded rabble-rouser that's only been hinted at in earlier works like "Script Kiddie Blues." In doing this, Karl elevates his persona as the slightly geekier answer to the modern American everyman to a noticeably higher plane.

While the fourth estate is still resplendent with the type of esoteric otaku rhymes that fans have come to expect, it also shows Karl bravely stepping into more accessible fare, specifically regarding issues that directly impact the proletariat (the Marxist interpretation of the fourth estate.) Perhaps Ultraklystron's attempts at lyrical evolution don't always totally hit their mark, but the simple act of conceptual expansion lends credence to the belief that Karl Olson is genuinely dedicated to his craft.

As for the album's insinuations that he'll no longer ply this particular craft, this sorrowful news is made less so by the admission in its waning minutes that Ultraklystron will always be around in one form or another.

I, for one, take solace in this, as the fourth estate is, despite some flaws, an enjoyable, stirring, cohesive effort. Production-wise, Karl's never been better, and lyrically, he once again proves himself a uniquely honest, if unassuming, rhyme-slinger.

"Game Over! - Press X to Continue"


antisoc said...

Oh good, I wasn't the only one who heard "nice cans" the first time through. LOL!

killsaly said...

Good review Z. I got mine in the mail a week or so ago and it is in regular rotation at the moment.

Z. said...

I heard it the first time. As well as the second and third, Soc! ;)

It's a real charmer, ks. Sounds like Karl thinks I'm overanalyzing it a bit, but either way the album is amazing.

Karl said...

Well, I've never envisioned myself as a voice of the proletariat, so it's somewhat odd to see myself cast in that light.

My beefs with stuff like ACTA and border enforcement more come out of the fact it's a waste of time (and money) that distracts from real crime more than anything else. It's a waste, you know?

Z. said...


And I'm certainly not trying to paint you as a revolutionary leader of the working class, Karl. But I've always liked your common man approach to lyricism, and I think that sort of relatability really came through in this album.

Karl said...

Ah, but it's easy to write from the common man view when you are in fact a fairly common man. I mean, I'm not really able to ride themes or tell stories nearly as well as a lot of other folks in the genre, but I can talk about my life, my interests, my passions and all that. It's not so much an approach as the only way I can do things. It's essays and blog-entries, in music form. -_-;

Karl said...

also, i will probably make records til the day i die. i couldn't quit if i wanted - i can just sleepwalk through the process and still do an awesome job of it ;)

Z. said...

Honestly, Karl, I could never see you leaving music behind even if you wanted to. You'd still make and record it and it would slip out some way. I'd see to it. ;)