Thursday, July 13, 2017

Shabazz Palaces - Quazarz Vs. The Jealous Machines Review

When Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star was announced, heavy-handed concept of extraterrestrial ideas in tow, the swift 36 minutes of said project seemed light, and incapable of fulfilling such declarative prophecies. After leaking months ahead of schedule, as per usual with Sub Pop, the other half of the Quazarz mystery needed to be revealed. If Gangster Star was the origin story, Jealous Machines is the direct confrontation of Quazarz and America's foreign world. For Shabazz Palaces, this land is quite fertile, as critiquing modern society in a way that's both challenging and fun has never been out of their equation. However, with Quazarz's concept, told bluntly through a press release in much a similar fashion to fellow Sub Pop counterculturists clipping. and their Splendor & Misery, the purpose of their next project was predominant, not secretive. The music contained within though, is anything but. While antagonistic and candid in some aspects, Jealous Machines slithers through Ishmael Butler's advanced lingo like a soothsayer whose never talked outside of riddles in others. The end result is a more natural Shabazz Palaces album than Gangster Star, but one that still stumbles through similarities, lack of growth, and limited ambition.

Let's begin with that last point, as proclaiming a double concept LP containing 21 songs ambition-less can't go without a solid defense. There's something about Butler's lyrical complexities, and the production's tendency to match that, that causes the final moments on Jealous Machines to feel anticlimactic. In fact, both LP's fail to provide the necessary rise and fall's of a well-told concept. See 2014's Lese Majesty and its 18 tracks, half of which were nothing more than experimental soundscapes, but ones that simultaneously boosted the impact of standouts like 'They Come In Gold,' '#Cake,' or 'Motion Sickness.' Everything on Jealous Machines tends to blend in without formal advancement of story. In other words, if the music contained within 'Quazarz On 23rd' swapped places with 'Welcome To Quazarz' I wouldn't have noticed a difference. Butler speaks in generalities, which is typically fine, but not when a project needs a formal resolution. Gangster Star got a pass for being poised as an introduction, Jealous Machines doesn't because it leaves the listener with more questions than answers. Does Quazarz understand his braggadocios hypocrisies? Did he learn a lesson by observing? Were his encounters joyous or destitute? Next to nothing is solved, it's just a facade for Shabazz Palaces to critique America without understanding why.

If anything, Quazarz becomes even more embedded in the ways of those he denounces. On 'Welcome,' Quazarz examines humanities intent on killing all that was certain. "Killed hope, killed sex, killed pride" Butler expunges as jittery percussion floats and bounces around him. But as we learn on Gangster Star, and in select cases like 'Julian's Dream,' 'Quazarz On 23rd,' or 'Sabonim In The Saab On 'Em,' Quazarz himself isn't all that different from those he harshly chastises on 'Gorgeous Sleeper Cell,' 'Self-Made Follownaire,' or '30 Clip Extension.' It makes for conflicting intent, and one that's not entirely negative if that was the intent to begin with. Labyrinthian constructs have always been apart of Shabazz Palaces' manuscript, after all. Thankfully, unlike much of Gangster Star, Jealous Machines backs up its cultural beliefs with inventive sonic measures and a more substantial focus on Butler's rapping. How he glides across such futuristic inversions has always been Shabazz Palaces' calling card, and thanks to numerous instrumental relapses and redundancies in flows, Gangster Star lacked that. Here, Butler appears everywhere; the instruments simply follow the chain of command. Only towards Jealous Machines' back half does the order flip in the other direction.

After the impotent opener that fails to tantalize, Jealous Machines goes on a six-track hot streak that doesn't let up until '30 Clip Extension's' analysis of modern day rappers. Whereas the Black Up influence is next to null on either LP, traces of Lese Majesty can be found. 'Gorgeous Sleeper Cell' is one such track, as exotic rhythms build and thrust around Butler who boldly flexes with each percussive heart beat. 'Atlaantis' too acts similarly to Lese Majesty's curious collective, and would have found a splendid home amongst Suite 2's temporary movements. Besides foreshadowing the coming tempo shift of the second half, 'Atlaantis' also feeds into the ensuing track 'Effeminence' quite nicely. Along with 'Since C.A.Y.A.,' 'Effeminence' is the best Shabazz Palaces material we've received from the two Quazarz, providing a succulent groove around plodding synths and opaque eroticism. Fly Guy Dai appears alongside Butler for a wonderfully evocative hook, one that Butler himself matches in the fast-footed verses. Capped off with an watery instrumental climax and 'Effeminence' is easily Jealous Machines' standout. The track excels in part due to Butler's fantastic flowing, something that comes out strong elsewhere on 'Quazarz On 23rd' and '30 Clip Extension,' which both enhance the braggadocios, swagger dialogue.

However, a string of low tempo tracks emerge in the album's second half as Quazarz place amongst society begins to linger. Because of their production style, that being highly intoxicating, sometimes deliriously spacey afro-beats, these slowed instruments, namely the bass, overwhelm Butler and quite literally drown him out. At times it becomes frustrating even understanding him, as seen on 'Love In The Time Of Kanye' and 'Late Night Phone Calls.' The perpetually thumping aquatic bass actually deters Jealous Machines from being a quality late night driving record. Sometimes that approach has positive results though, like 'Julian's Dream,' which touts Shabazz Palaces' often-used sensuality as Butler, and an admittedly annoying performance by The Shogun Shot, seduces some fine females he openly lusts over. This song, 'Late Night Phone Calls,' and many more decry first world obsession over cell phone usage, and that's something I've merely scoffed off since now. For Butler, it's as important as reprimanding cliched rappers, even though the two aren't particularly correlated. This adds yet another perplexing critique from Quazarz, as his world is clearly imbued with advanced technology that society relies upon. Butler may have found himself at a contradictory crossroads, trapped between past yearnings and future dependency, but that, oddly enough, makes Jealous Machines all the more stimulating.

No comments:

Post a Comment