Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lil Ugly Mane - Oblivion Access Review

You know how many reviews start with a quote from the record that summarizes the piece? With Lil Ugly Mane’s Oblivion Access that’s impossible, and not for lack of choices, but the mere opposite. A reclusive figure meandering the gloomy confines of kickstarted Internet stardom, Travis Miller has always been hesitant to accepting the attention he’s warranted. On his supposed final album, each line is slathered in personal inflection, surreal encounters, and riveting gasps about the brevity of life, making it difficult to reflect on just one. Do we elaborate on the mental breakdown concluding the album (“what’s it all mean? what’s he saying when he says it?”) or do we focus on Miller’s perception of the self (“I’m just a bag of tumors full of alkaline”)? Maybe his clarification on fate (“it was the first time I prayed, no one there to tell me that I shouldn’t be afraid”) or his description of humanity (“what is more fictitious, the gods or you and I?”). Regardless of which quote you use, Oblivion Access stands ripe with fodder for the fans. It’s a piece of work from one of music’s most shadowy wallflowers that sees a well-developed character morph into his creator, with an exhaustive look at the brain behind the man behind the persona.

To many, Lil Ugly Mane’s Third Side Of Tape, a massive two hour compilation piece released earlier this year, was his grand opus. Throwaways recorded over the span of 13 years, it saw genres smashed, spliced, and mutilated together in a jar of piss. Chopped N’ Screwed Memphis Hip-Hop saw competition in its atmosphere from Black Metal, breakneck Dance rhythms found fluidity against Ethereal Drone patterns, while Lo-Fi Indie Rock had company in South African tribal chants and acoustic Country sets, and Jazz Rap got forcibly pushed up against Horrorcore. Essentially it was a record devoid of personality, an obtuse piece that witnessed an obsessed, schizophrenic madman drain himself of worth in anything but all-knowing musicianship. It’s with that behemoth that Oblivion Access’ existence is so pertinent, for now that Lil Ugly Mane’s theoretically life ends death is pressing, as indicated by the album’s title and the looming contents dripping within. For Miller it takes a finality, that of his most famous pseudonym, to revel in his personal life, pressing thoughts, and persistent beliefs. Gone is the facade of a Three Six Mafia cover artist masking behind Southern slathered beats and ghetto slang vocals, leaving a wreckage thats wiped the character from the person behind it.

Oblivion Access begins with ‘Ejaculated Poisoned Wretch,’ a strict noise collage that cultivates a bulimic cadaver infested with glitch-covered maggots. Tracks like this appear sporadically elsewhere, like ‘Warmest Flag,’ ‘Compliance,’ and shredded throughout a handful of songs, acting as condensed versions of more expanded moments on Third Side. As a cohesive whole, these short instrumental refrains help bring Miller’s range into eyesight without detracting from the largely Hip-Hop foundation. There’s times too when the gargled noise leaks under Miller’s rapping and intwines with his formal Industrial-centric beats. Like on ‘Opposite Lanes’ where a crawling clock unwinds around pulsating mallet drums and hushed vocals before erupting in a demented beat akin to early El-P. Not just on the boards, Lil Ugly Mane has a lot to owe to El-P and the frigidness bubbling under Def Jux around the turn of the century, his aggressive style and confrontational lyrics bear resemblance to the Brooklyn emcee’s early days where passion and provocation ruled his bars. In this regard, Dalek also comes into mind, with his focus on passages of Dark Ambient drone which Lil Ugly Mane emphasizes on tracks like ‘Slugs’ or ‘Intent & Purulent Discharge.’

It’s with that last track, the finale of the album, that the clarity of Miller’s victory lap comes into focus, with the rapper himself questioning the fetishization of his music, slowly losing himself amongst a coming mechanical apocalypse as sound overtakes his breaths. It’s the result of his thoughts bombarding the skull, giving no solution but senselessness. ‘Columns,’ a narcissistic prophecy about humanity’s last steps, does a better job combing over Miller’s brain than every previous song in his discography combined, with later songs, like ‘Grave Within A Grave’ and ‘Persistence,’ acting as footnotes to his thesis. Despite all this the strongest testament to Oblivion Access’ success with coping comes during an existential moment in the middle of the album. As Miller’s voice warps and fades around “watching humans interact” midway through ‘Collapse & Appear,’ a seven and a half minute departure passing through four songs exists in which he does not speak. During that time though a boundless female voice constrained only by technical dimensions foretells of one’s demise through grotesquely vivid imagery. It’s the hindsight response to Radiohead’s ‘Fitter Happier.’ What follows though is ‘Leonard’s Lake,’ the best track here, that sounds like a welcoming chant to all sinners into Hell. It’s ghastly, anti-cathartic, and entirely presumptuous of every Hip-Hop beat that came before it, making it a truly memorable moment that offends all its predecessors. 

Many still don’t know what to make of Lil Ugly Mane and his place in Abstract Hip-Hop. Does he act as a deformity, shining the ugly parts back into our face, or a beacon crowning the jewels of the genre, and others he includes, taking them into unforeseen territory. It hate to seem haughty but all indications show it has to be one, given a dedicated sit down to the 44 minutes here it seems impossible to emerge without a strong reaction one way or another. His place amongst the genre means it likely won’t, but Oblivion Access seems transformative. Without gushing too much I’ll leave it at that and let Lil Ugly Mane himself take over and announce what quote I should have begun this review off with, one he states on his Bandcamp. “Oblivion Access is the last of the filthy water funneling out of the bathtub I’ve been soaking in for five years. It’s all the shit and cum and blood and piss and sweat and flakes of dead skin and hair collecting by the drain.” I can’t describe it much better than that. Let it fester.

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