Friday, December 23, 2016

Serengeti & Sicker Man - Doctor My Own Patience Review

There's nothing I admire more in the music industry than an artist playing by their own rules. Not trying to be someone else, do something trendy, or adhere to an edict decried from a faceless community, but rather simply make music how you see fit. Sometimes that'll result in prominence far beyond the levels of comprehension, like in the case of Kanye West. Other times though, the majority I'd argue, the artist merely exists, unrecognized by many, simply falling in love with whatever labor they've toiled with lately. To me, that catches my eye more than anything else, and right now, both my eyes have been firmly centered on Serengeti, a Chicago-based rapper whose been around for well over a decade, consistently releasing albums for a small, but committed fanbase who admires the music, but questions the man behind it. Maybe I'm overvaluing David Cohn. This is, after all, the man who created Kenny Dennis, a fictional character enamored with all Chicago stereotypes, and three albums directly fixated on him. Serengeti's music, in whatever form it takes, whether it be comical, tragic, enticing, or plain, is always interesting. Doctor My Own Patience, his second collaboration with German producer Sicker Man, is no different.

Based on his skittish discography, which has seen a slew of side projects come and go, it's clear Serengeti cares primarily about the art, and not the scene. Three years ago, he created Saal, his most despondent record yet, right alongside the Kenny Dennis LP. Two years ago, he teamed up with Sufjan Stevens and Son Lux to form Sisyphus, a genre-blending experiment. Last year, he finally joined forces with Open Mike Eagle and members of the Hellfyre Club with Time & Materials. Finally, this year, he collaborated with Yoni Wolf, of WHY? fame, to create Testarossa, a concept record about a family lost amidst an absent father touring the world. The man has no limitations, no boundaries, and you'd have to be clairvoyant to predict his next move. This time around, for the first time, Serengeti has gone full Indie Pop. With Doctor My Own Patience, rapping is no more. The comparisons to Yoni Wolf are obvious now, but there's certainly a hint or two of Sufjan Stevens in there as well. A worry for anyone making the transition from rapping to singing, needn't fret, Serengeti's vocal performance, while nothing exceptional, is more than adequate to handle the distinct change in scenery.

Like the majority of his albums, Doctor is short, sweet, and achingly to the point. He comes, he sends his message, he leaves. There's never any filler, fluff, or waste strewn about. However, the last time we saw Serengeti working with Sicker Man, with 2013's Saal, the message was dark and grave, yet cautiously optimistic. I'll never forget hearing the first moments of its introduction, 'Karate,' where Serengeti exhaustingly recites, "and her strength, it overwhelmed his karate." That wouldn't be the last time Saal discusses domestic abuse either. Tragic, made even more so by Sicker Man's imaginative production, which worked through the mind of a child. Unfortunately, that's where Doctor suffers the most; in it's content. Serengeti has chosen the route of far too many Indie Pop travesties before him, intent on spelling out romantic troubles, or successes, time and time again. This doesn't reduce the quality of music on display, but it's a shame for me, because what attracts me to Serengeti the most is his ideas, his stories, his strange verbiage. Doctor, almost exclusively, is about the relationship our lead has with an unnamed love interest, one who he embodies on tracks like 'Boy' and 'Top Up.'

The former, one of three lead singles, is one of the highs here. The production work, including a droning synth ongoing in the background, helps to create an engrossing aura that Serengeti enters with repeating phrases of conflated thoughts and desires. Another high mark, 'Hills,' flourishes, in similar fashion to 'Boy,' thanks to Serengeti and Sicker Man's chemistry, weaving between each other as darting synths and percussion moves amidst the singer's elongated bridge. Finally, 'Remember,' the album's wistful closer, lazily recounts a long journey home like a distant memory during a dream sequence. The production, which is airy and wholly reminiscent of your cheesy 80's SynthPop ballads (in a good way), matches the forlorn tone Serengeti presents as he slowly fades away. In all three cases listed above, the songs excel thanks to a unification between singer and producer. On 'Boy,' 'Hills,' and 'Remember,' Serengeti's presence feels natural, at home, and at ease. This isn't the case with 'Beltloop' and the majority of 'Top Up,' as both live in a more paranoid state that Serengeti has trouble matching with his current vocal skill set. Especially 'Beltloop,' which features production not entirely unlike early 90's House (think Moby), where the two musicians clash rather than harmonize.

However, at the end of the day, this is Serengeti, and despite the genres moving to Indie and Synth Pop, the unique perspectives he takes challenges those basic genre principles with details you'll find nowhere else. In fact, the cases in which the production slacks, not from quality but lack of imagination, is improved thanks to Serengeti's perplexing words. On the aforementioned high points, 'Loose Control' and the second half of 'Top Up,' Sicker Man actually struggles to make a name for himself. While his appearance on Saal captured the naivety of an adolescent, using stripped down instrumentation to make the grandiose set pieces all the more memorable, the majority of tracks here compress themselves to levels in which the synths all end up having the same impression. Simply put, the highs aren't all that daunting because it feels as if they're constantly happening. Given a certain light however, this approach could see better days if understood under the guise of a fleeting romantic encounter. The synths, reminiscence of the 80's New Wave age, are a dead giveaway to that goal. It's accomplished, sure, but Doctor My Own Patience still feels a little colorless. But rest assured, when we see Serengeti next he'll be doing something entirely new.

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