TV Loves You Back
California is a big state. And hip-hop aficionados, with their firm sense of place, tie Oakland to a unique style of rap that bears little resemblance to its famous counterpart in Los Angeles. The brightest lights of the Bay Area, E-40 and Too $hort, never fully bought into the dark, trigger-happy sensationalism of the Death Row artists: Guns simply weren't part of their vision of, or path to, the good life. Emphasizing the joy of letting loose, the hyphy movement that sprang up a few years ago only cemented the scene's drama-free outlook.
But Oakland's Restiform Bodies are agitators. And what better place for this hall of modest fame-- the indie-rap supergroup of Passage, Bomarr Monk, and Telephone Jim Jesus-- than Anticon? Their debut on the label, TV Loves You Back, presents a furious, righteous, and not entirely subtle dissatisfaction with capitalism. Thanks to the recent tumult in the world's markets, the album, like the DNC platform, has an added punch of timeliness. To be fair, mindless consumerism is more the target here than, say, overly leveraged banks. In short, the rappers mount their attack on low culture, not high finance.
"Consumer Culture Wave" suggests a fight-the-Man mission with its title. Luckily, the song is better than that, too gloriously strange and oblique to be pressed into the service of jam-band leftism. (Love and gender seem to be the real subject, anyway.) Better to revel in the fluorescent textures and spastic rhythms, an accurate evocation of life in the attention-deficient multimedia slipstream, than to grope for political provocations in the lyrics. After all, it would have sufficed to attack QVC in only one song, you'd think. Docking too many points here isn't fair, anyway: Laid out on the page, even the best songs forfeit their essence. But when you spit nonsense with the apocalyptic ferocity of El-P, in many ways the hyperpolitical white rapper's template, that nonsense may as well be scripture.
Ever eager to disquiet, the Bodies even stoke the listener's anxieties about machines (on the sludgy, horror-string-laced "Pick It Up, Drop It") and modern medicine ("Ameriscan"). If there's a paranoid style in American hip-hop, this may be its purest expression. Nodding to the post-Thanksgiving virus that turns the lanes of Wal-Mart into the Ben-Hur chariot race, "Black Friday" bounces between drum'n'bass speed and trip-hop languor to manic-depressively link consumerism and domestic life. That the Bodies lean on everything from the New Romantics to crunk to post-rock to ghettotech to paint this cultural self-portrait only amplifies the strangeness-- and accuracy-- of TV Loves You Back.
"Movies are for entertainment," Louis B. Mayer famously stated. "If you want to send a message, send a telegram." The role of art isn't quite that narrow, of course, but the legendary producer knew that audiences didn't want to be lectured. And sadly that's what a lot of independent rap does. The Restiform Bodies avoid this. As Passage put it: "All the information on TV Loves You Back is stuff I'm trying to make peace with as a person, and that I think we all have to make peace with as a society." That sums up why the record is not only digestible, but outright luscious. We're not watching a presentation or reading a complaint. We're not being condemned for watching "The Hills". We're living, for a YouTube minute, inside three minds warped and wracked by our national addiction to the screen. It's equal parts unsightly and arresting in the way that most pathologies are.
- Roque Strew, December 10, 2008
Tour plans for next year:
02/19/09 Portland, OR @ Backspace (w/ EGADZ)
02/21/09 Boise, ID @ he Bouquet (w/ EGADZ)
02/22/09 Salt Lake City, UT @ Uprock Records (w/ EGADZ)
02/24/09 Denver, CO @ Hi-Dive (w/ EGADZ)
02/27/09 Winterhaven, CA @ Open Aired (w/ EGADZ)
03/03/09 Las Vegas, NV @ The Bunkhouse (w/ EGADZ)
03/05/09 San Francisco, CA @ Underground SF (w/ EGADZ)