Monday, May 9, 2016

Yoni & Geti - Testarossa Review

By name, David Cohn is an unknown figure. Like most rappers he attributes a stage name to himself, Serengeti, one that he uses as an alter ego. And yet, even that isn't satisfactory enough. You see, Cohn, as Serengeti, works under branching pseudonyms that attempt to hide who the man behind the mask really is. Kenny Dennis, Cavanaugh, 'Geti, one-third of Sisyphus, the list goes on. The superfluous mystery dispels itself in almost every instance in which he raps, with mature, lifelike sentience that has to come from a place etched in reality. 2014's Sisyphus, with Son Lux and Sufjan Stevens, saw everyday struggles of family posterity compared to the story of Sisyphus, one that follows the man exhaustively push a rock up a hill only to be forced to watch it roll back down. Inherent vicious cycles dominate his work, making the Abstract genre addendum quite unsuitable for the glaring graveness he frequently displays. Testarossa, a collaboration with Why?'s Yoni Wolf, continues these personal pitfalls through the clearest way possible; a concept album. Seeing a struggling musician leave his wife and kids behind in hopes of reaching global grandeur, Testarossa excels on achieving maturity through playful themes.

If you just so happen to know Yoni Wolf or Serengeti well enough it should dawn on you that this story mirrors that of their own careers. While Wolf doesn't rap on this, a disappointment for fans who continue to wait for him to do so, his paw prints are everywhere else. Handling the production and much of the refrained singing, both Yoni & Geti trade-off dilemmas through different templates. The latter opens the LP with 'Umar Rashid,' an ode to his best friend, and a sweet but sour introduction to the story at hand. From there on out we see Davy, the fictional character, enjoy vacationing in the Bahamas, losing his wife's ring in the sand, hooking up with Europeans half his age, and regretting it all. We also see Maddy, his fictional wife, overburdened with housework, playing intimately with Davy's best friend, seeing her hubby on the tele, and conflicted over his eventual return. Witnessing this unfold, figuring out when each character speaks, and unraveling secrets between the two is nothing less than stimulating. The world Yoni & Geti have created, while small (the LP is only 36 minutes), exhausts many opportunities and details through their heavy-handed form of Abstract Hip-Hop.

Through sheer masterwork, Testarossa is able to be both inviting and private. Numerous times on the LP will you run into lyrics or themes that sound nonsensical. One such example is 'Wassup (Uh Huh),' which sees both bouncing between folksy guitar licks using irrelevant lyrics. However the previous interlude, 'Change,' indicates, through great transitional work, that this is a phone call between the two, ripe with inside jokes. Later on, 'The Lore' sees Mady rifle through apps for ways to interact with Davy. The private life between these two only makes the story more animated, and as does the production, which draws listeners in through pleasant sounds and sonic diversions. 'Allegheny' sees a solemn piano glide over hammering drums, a technique Wolf utilizes a handful of times here. However, just as things wind down with a spoken word section by Geti, a riveting drum procession picks up, as strings join in on cue. The same occurrence happens on 'Lunchline,' keeping things thoroughly engaging and punchy, never resting on the sometimes tedious boredom underground Hip-Hop beats face. Even groovy rhythms join in on the almost Ska-like 'Luckytown,' or the dance club 'Down.' The diversity amongst all the production creates funky foundation's for the story to peruse divergent scenic ventures.

How all the pieces come together results in pretty dissonance. They're janky, unconventional, and tormented by two conflicting ideologies. The songs centering around Madeline are more sincere, relatable, and grim, while Davy's has a fantastical side that balances relational rendezvous with a level of undercut inflection. This culminates in the magnificent 'I, Testarossa,' which steamrolls the thematic concept to its climax. As with all great stories, Testarossa features repeating motifs meant to intrigue you with dignified importance. The two ones here are a model car, the Testarossa, that he buys for his kids (bonus points for being a metaphor about his wishes to be something he's not), and Davy himself being a poltergeist. In exalting revelation Geti screams towards the end of that track "I'm a poltergeist, I'm a poltergeist, but I might return tonight!" An entity not physically present but causing disruptions, Davy's character flawlessly represents this, and all the sudden the album cover snaps into perspective. One half in the home, the other trying to get away, the cover, and the finale of 'I, Testarossa,' which sees his kids joyful for his return, delivers clarity unmatched by the bulk of music today.

Testarossa succeeds on almost all fronts. Sure, there's a reused section on 'Down' from Serengeti and Open Mike Eagle's joint collab Time & Materials, and the back half drags just a smidge due to an over-focus on a lost fling, but the segmented interludes offsets these by drawing a bird's-eye view of the situation, with tracks like 'Luckytown' and 'What A Fool' diving into Davy's mind as he reminisces on memories he's missed. These are only minor quips, and as a small side note, take a glance at the tracklist for some resilient symmetry in the track lengths. Regardless of what easter eggs Yoni and Geti throw onto Testarossa, the project as a whole is largely brilliant. The bulk of the LP thrives on superb story-telling, strung out by an intricate weaving of characters, settings, and scenes, all done in less time than an hour-long TV show. If the story doesn't draw you in, the tantalizing parts representing bridges between moments (the end of 'Madeline' or 'Lunchline') or Serengeti's continued high-caliber wordplay certainly will. A work that excels on all fronts, one that continues to unravel the mystery behind David Cohn and Yoni Wolf.

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