Friday, September 11, 2009

Just Thought I’d Let You Know

I sometimes get the impression that MC Lars has a master list of potential top-shelf collaborators, perhaps laid out in some sort of Bingo card format. Weird Al – check. Jesse Dangerously – check. YTCracker – double-check.

If this is truly the case, then the central square, the space upon which the fate of the very game hinges, is K.Flay.

Stanford educated, indie rock bred and hip-hop hardened, K.Flay is Lars's perfect analog. Yet as stylistically similar as they at first appear, there is an enchanting differentness that exists between their styles. It is within this uncommon region that this particular partnership seemingly flourishes, and it is from this delightful gray area that their first full-on collaborative effort, the tellingly named Single and Famous, was birthed.
  1. "Running Trains"
    Single and Famous
    kicks off with a song centered simply on the friendship that exists between Lars and K.Flay. Structurally, it's a little counterintuitive, with each MC rhyming (in the first person, no less) about the virtues of the other. Lyrically, it's a tad underwhelming, but it's not without a certain charm. It comes off as a bit of a throw-away track – an odd choice for an EP, where each inch of sonic real estate counts – but it still manages to be a fun project opener.
  2. "It's a Party Y'all (feat. Damondrick 'Shoehorn' Jack)"
    Things really get underway with the second offering, a good-natured party jam that sees three rappers bat verses back-and-forth atop a minimalist, slightly silly backing. Lars starts strong and DJ's guest verse adds another great aural texture to the track, but the joint firmly belongs to K.Flay, who comes off as cool, confident, smart and sexy as ever. It's her party, and we're just the guests.
  3. "Altered States"
    Part travelogue part carryover from 80s edutainment television, "Altered States" tells us where our lyrical protagonists have traveled and what they did along the way. Again, not exactly a groundbreaking narrative, but an enjoyable ride none the less. (I made a funny!) The song's beat seems to connect a bit more precisely with the native flows of both K.Flay and MC Lars than its direct predecessors', no doubt due to the skillful production of the former, and it's important to note that this is the first song on the EP that features a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure. Am I a little heartbroken about not being name-dropped on Lars's line about South Carolina? Sure, but in spite of that obvious flaw it's still a keeper. ;)
  4. "The Game"
    Another K.Flay produced track, "The Game" is a street-level banger that doubles as a less-than explicit sex jam. Not only does it fit nicely as the EP's halftime show, but it also stands aptly on its own. With its plodding vocal delivery and slightly wavering beat, it could've easily bled into the shameful realm of lackadaisical rap, but instead it comes off as a slow and steady head-bobber that's sure to please.
  5. "We Fresh"
    The EP's shortest track (and also it's only offering guest produced by Dust Collector), "We Fresh" sticks out like a sore thumb. But in a good way. It kicks the braggadocio displayed thus far up another glorious notch, and adds a distinct flavor to the proceedings. Though the chippy, heavily-compressed chorus may prove a turn-off to some, let me remind you that it also contains hip-hop's only reference to The Aggro Crag. Fuck yeah, it does!
  6. "Somebody's Watching Me"
    This is not a cover of the 1984 Rockwell chart-topper of the same name. I just wanted to get that out of the way. It is, instead, a scathing critique of the modern electronic Panopticon. Referencing everything from Sister Souljah to Azkaban, it boasts exactly the sort of clever, hyper-intelligent, socially aware lyrics we've come to expect from both MCs but that have thus far remained absent on an EP centered firmly on the lighter side of songwriting. Casting K.Flay as our slightly paranoid narrator and MC Lars as the voice of Big Brother, it manages to stay both bleak and engaging. Above another urgent K.Flay beat, it comes through as a proper wake-up call to the idle masses.
  7. "Single and Famous"
    If many of the other selections possess more of a "K.Flay sound," then the EP's title track is definitely textbook MC Lars, at least on the instrumental end. With a driving, tinny guitar that brings in just enough of a punk rock aesthetic, "Single and Famous" is the project's musical powerhouse, its lyrical haymaker, its emotional center. The ultimate break-up anthem, it's a song about finding the strength to move on… by delivering a surgically precise "fuck you" to your ex. Lars, whose performance thus far has been fairly laid back, proves he's still got plenty of juice left over from This Gigantic Robot Kills, and rather than sounding out of place amongst the aggro K.Flay comes through as pained, angered and wholly relatable. Plus, her vocal doubling has never sounded better! Harshly emotional and almost uncomfortably autobiographical, it intensely caps and eclectic listening experience.
Upon first listening to Single and Famous in its entirety, I think I was a tad underwhelmed. Part of me expected it to be a continuation of the superlative effort that was The Digital Gangster LP, MC Lars's first wholly collaborative hip-hop project and, for many nerdcore fans, the proper introduction to K.Flay. And yet it wasn't.

Neither was it, as one might also suspect, a balls-out punk/rap powerhouse on par with his most recent solo effort nor the stripped-down electro-funk of K.Flay's Suburban Rap Queen.
Instead it was something totally different: its own animal.

It was only after I realized that this was purely by design that I genuinely began to grok the EP. It is an artistic island, a free-standing structure that exists for its own creative edification.

It's not about Lars's rocked up chortles or K.Flay's slinky whispers, but about the intersection of the two and the all important area where their artistic overlap flounders. It is the sound of a pair of friends who are as comparable as they are dissimilar getting together to mix the proverbial chocolate and peanut butter. And while the resulting EP isn't without its flaws, it’s the sort of affair that seemingly makes you, the listener, a party to the friendship and creative cross-pollination of these two fascinating individuals. It's tuneful, good-natured and well worth the price of admission.

"Welcome to the MC Lars and K.Flay show. / We attack your ears like Vincent Van Gogh."


Antisoc said...

I've had This Gigantic Robot Kills bumping in my car for the past week. I'm beginning to thirst for new Lars blood. (The thirst never really left.)

ADeadHeart said...

Everybody wants to be single and famous?

Been following the creation of this for a while and looking forward to it. Glad to read your review and hope you're well!

Z. said...

It's a really different kind of album from TGRK, Soc, but I think you'll dig it!

Thanks, ADH!

funky49 said...

I needs to see these two live.


Z. said...

You should get a chance, funk, as a tour (reportedly also including YTCracker) is in the works!

Nerd said...

Lars gave me this EP at gamecore. And it is pretty slick. But I think the standout on the album is "DJ's"(Damondrick 'Shoehorn' Jack) verse on "It's a party Y'all" DJ is the secret stage stealer. He blew it up at gamecore and brought a whole lot of his own energy to the stage. Good EP. And I'm glad to hear DJ on wax.

Z. said...

I do have to give it up for DJ, Nerd.