Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Moodie Black - Nausea (Album Review)

Moodie Black - Nausea
Release date: May 6, 2014 (Fake Four Inc.)

When I interviewed Moodie Black MC/producer/mastermind Chris Martinez more than five years ago for a Phoenix New Times music feature, he had just started referring to his noisy, distorted and occasionally chaotic brand of hip-hop as "post-rap." He soon backed away from the label, however, opting for the less grandiose but more descriptive term "noise rap." 

"It sounded like I was a pretentious prick mostly," Martinez expained when I asked him recently why he stopped using the term. "But also because the music is what it is. I'll let the masses label it."

After listening to his latest batch of songs, I'm starting to think he was right all along. Nausea is Moodie Black's first full-length release for indie hip-hop label Fake Four Inc., and the follow-up to last year's self-titled EP that initially caught the label's attention. While Nausea is still plenty noisy, it also features the kind of epic, post-rock soundscapes favored by bands like Jesu, Explosions in the Sky and Deafheaven.

The latter feels like a particularly apt comparison. Deafheaven became a critical darling last year by melding soaring, anthemic post-rock with harsh, virtually indistinguishable black metal vocals on their widely praised sophomore album Sunbather. It was a jarring combination, but its effect was undeniable. All of a sudden, people who didn't know Varg Vikernes from Vinnie Vincent were singing Deafheaven's praises, and metalheads -- at least the ones who hadn't already dismissed the band as hipster posers -- were basking in the fleeting glow of mainstream acceptance.

While Moodie Black might not sound much like Deafheaven, their journeys are similar. With Moodie Black, Martinez is taking rap music down a path many hip-hop fans might feel uncomfortable traveling, and he doesn't appear to care a whit about it. For the brave souls who choose to venture along, the trip turns out to be pretty damn rewarding.

The songs on Nausea are almost uniformly dark and brooding, but without the obvious anger that seemed to dominate the EP that preceded it. Perhaps signing with a well known label after years of grinding independently has softened Martinez's demeanor, but that not necessarily a bad thing. He's an incredible talent, both as a producer and a rapper, and in some of his harsher work, the vocals would sometimes get buried in the mix. On Nausea, he has struck a near-perfect balance between mainstream accessibility and his personal artistic vision.

That's not to say that Nausea is mainstream or accessible in the traditional sense of those words. You're definitely not going to hear tracks like "Hawk vs. Vulture" or "Christ" the next time you have the misfortune of finding yourself in an Old Town Scottsdale dance club. You're probably not going to hear "The Mass" blasting from the tricked-out Civic sitting next to you at a stoplight. But this is the kind of album that the tastemakers at Pitchfork could (and should) latch onto. It has the kind of crossover appeal that could draw in indie music fans who might not listen to a lot of traditional hip-hop.

The bigger question is probably whether or not fans of traditional hip-hop will be on board with Moodie Black's progressive, experimental take on the genre. I hope they are, because they'd be missing out on a record that, despite pushing hip-hop into uncharted -- and sometimes flat-out weird -- territory, is still, at its essence, a really fucking good rap album.

Nausea is one of those rare albums that showcases an artist doing exactly what he wants to do at the peak of his creativity. It's still early in the year, but this is not just the best hip-hop release I've heard in 2014, but the best album, period. In the overstimulated, multitasking world we live in, music is often reduced to background noise. Even as a (part-time) music critic, I typically listen to new releases while I'm checking e-mail, browsing Facebook or watching a game on mute. Nausea made me stop everything else I was doing and just listen. It will probably do the same for you, if you give it a chance.

Listen to the track "WOLVES" and pre-order the album here.

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