Friday, February 3, 2017

P.O.S - Chill, Dummy Review

For the cover of his fifth LP, and first in as many years, P.O.S. can be seen frozen in time, as the title Chill, Dummy scribbles itself crudely above him. The immobility of the man seems apt, given his recent trauma over multiple failing kidneys that resulted in a lengthy recession from the spotlight. While the rest of the world moved forward, changes abound, P.O.S lay dormant on his hospital bed, waiting for a donor then waiting for the heal. Originating from a Punk background, where reckless behavior and an adventuring-like attitude came par for the course, this forced idleness would've done one of two things for the Doomtree rapper; ignite a spark to return, or live content in conditional passivity. If Chill, Dummy's anything to go by, P.O.S has clearly taken the first route. It's no Never Better, which still sits firmly in my top 100 albums of all-time, but the Minnesota rapper bests his 2012 effort We Don't Even Live Here by amalgamating aggression with reflection, contemplating both his time away from music, and the time the world's been away from him. A few benighted swipes at current cultural changes can't override the heart and passion of a man whose been given a second chance.

Like P.O.S' earlier efforts, Ipecac Neat and Audition, Chill, Dummy finds itself firmly situated on the Punk roots by which the artist has been bred. While those former albums were controlled by way of unashamed rebellion, a side effect of growing cultural disdain in an anarchistic support system, Chill, Dummy's impromptu aggression comes from years of being involuntarily repressed from society, something that would not only upset someone with relative fame, but also someone whose entire motto has been defined by abrasion. With that in mind, it only makes sense for P.O.S to emerge by breaking out from the ice block with a thunderous yelp. 'Born A Snake,' 'Wearing A Bear,' and 'Bully' waste no time kicking things off, viciously moving through sounds and lyrics at a frantic pace. I'm typically not a fan of P.O.S' old Punk Rap, as the crossover of Abstract and Conscious on Never Better suited my tastes more concretely, and these first three tracks don't alter that perception much. 'Born A Snake' is nice, and as an introduction quite eruptive. But the other two, and scattered remnants elsewhere like 'Roddy Piper' and 'Lanes,' struggle to maintain my interest as P.O.S riffles more through tenuous emotion than pensive dialogue.

However, that's not to say the rest of the album struggles in this respect. After that initial upsurge, P.O.S finally allows himself time to relax, with a three-track run spanning 'Faded,' 'Pieces / Ruins,' and 'Get Ate.' While the latter works mostly as a sequential interlude, the former two offer different styles P.O.S uses effortlessly. Apart from a select few standouts, these tracks are better than anything We Don't Even Live Here had on offer. While it's uncredited, Justin Vernon's falsetto appears on 'Faded,' which creates a quaint, reflective state for P.O.S to soothingly linger upon. And while 'Pieces / Ruins' is more uptempo, there's a certain destitute ambience bubbling beneath, as P.O.S, Dwynell Roland, and Busdriver all come equip with excellent verses to eat up. The former and latter in particular are album-wide benchmarks, with P.O.S providing a long-winded verse that never slacks in terms of flow. In fact, for a five year absence, it's quite impressive how much P.O.S has retained in terms of skill, dexterity, and delivery. Rarely, if ever, does he stumble, and if it wasn't for a relative lack of interesting content (something abound on Never Better), P.O.S' return could've been universally celebrated.

Speaking of prominent rapping, Open Mike Eagle comes equip with his peculiar, but topically savvy demeanor on 'Infinite Scroll,' which is the first time these two have collaborated. In an unexpected twist, 'Infinite Scroll' actually begins in an inexplicably similar state to Kanye West's 'Runaway.' And while the piano eventually submerges, the natural tone and massiveness of the production lingers, which makes for Chill, Dummy's most impressive stature in that regard. However, it's also P.O.S' weakest aspect lyrically, which is a shame because it's one of the few times he remains focused on a singular idea. Criticizing society's obsession with social media is a fair endeavor, but one that rarely results in solid execution. Like other tracks similar, P.O.S comes off as haughty and superior, despite the problems being raised being nothing if not over-discussed. 'Gravedigger' briefly touches upon the idea again, but more so the YOLO-ers out there denying life's brevity. Like 'Infinite Scroll,' it's competent despite the same criticisms being applied. Thankfully, both tracks succeed musically, even if 'Gravedigger' undergoes a drastic beat switch to Trap courtesy of Angelenah's aggressive verse. Somehow both her, and Manchita, represent the female perspective quite well, as do the slew found on the grand finale 'Sleepdrone / Superposition.'

Speaking of that song in particular, Chill, Dummy's near nine-minute send-off is, unfortunately, the only song to precisely tackle P.O.S' failing kidneys and his newfound perspectives on life. It's also been out for nearly a year, acting as the album's lead single. While 'Sleepdrone / Superposition' does harbor some poor harmonized singing for its chorus, the hardened verses around it, and the ever-shifting beat, help the track stay afloat. There's no denying it's one of P.O.S' most ambitious pieces to date, but there's something natural about it, as if the length isn't a factor whatsoever, which I suppose is a testament to its fascination. Attention surely isn't lost throughout. When it comes to Chill, Dummy overall, while there are certainly moments the Hip-Hop turns a bit too tiresome and contrived, the album's competent variety and concise duration elevate the final product above something that would've typically be seen as forgettable. P.O.S' no-holds bar demeanor helps with that for sure, maintaining his skills as an emcee without a single setback. And while I'd have hoped for more interesting lyrics concerning his wellbeing and less looming generalities, the man frozen in the Minnesota tundra has proven that second chances shouldn't be taken for granted.

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