Review Summary: Stand up so we know who's here -- who wanna open the machine and rage against the gears?
A little background info on P.O.S. is important to gaining a true understanding of his sound and aesthetic; basically, Stephan Alexander is one pissed off dude. P.O.S. stands for any number of things, including Pissed Off Steph, Promise of Skill/Stress, Piece of Sh*t and Product of Society. He grew up playing guitar and doing vocals in punk/hardcore bands before discovering the soon-to-explode Minneapolis hip hop scene with artists such as Atmosphere and Musab (Beyond, when he was a member of Atmosphere). After forming a collective called Doomtree with friend/collaborator Cecil Otter, P.O.S. released his debut album Ipecac Neat
independently in 2004 before being picked up by Rhymesayers Entertainment.
is the follow-up to Ipecac
and seeks to build upon the elements of punk, hardcore, alternative and hip-hop contained in the first record by sporting a more streamlined sound and consistent vibe/feel throughout the album. The result is one of the most astounding and unique hip-hop listening experiences to come out in the last decade. P.O.S. does it all here – rapping, singing, screaming while playing the guitar, bass and keys through sixteen tracks of visceral, atmospheric and occasionally abrasive soundscapes. Lyrically the emcee is unabashedly bold in attacking modern society; whether his target is the government, the film or recording industries, other people or even his own inner demons, P.O.S. tackles all subjects with a reckless abandon that is perfectly befitting of his punk-rock roots. The opening line on the first real track of the record is “first of all, f*ck Bush – that’s all, that’s the end of it” (Audition
was released in 2006, making that statement much more relevant than it might seem today) and he continues to spit fire throughout the remaining three and a half minutes of “Half-Cocked Concepts.” On another particularly strong track (backed by an extremely high-energy beat from producer-on-the-rise Lazerbeak) by the name of “Stand Up (Let’s Get Murdered)” P.O.S. asks, “we’re talking about the most hated machine of all time, but in November who had the patience to stand in line?”
It’s key to the success of Audition
that P.O.S. is unafraid to question the status quo, as the entire sound of the record is very unconventional for hip-hop. The production is often jagged and heavy-hitting, while remaining melodic at the same time. Case in point would be album highlight “P.O.S. Is Ruining My Life,” where distorted guitars and a catchy baseline transition the song from hardcore-influenced verses to an extremely memorable chorus of “if you come down and just breathe, and just breathe in and out; you’ll feel a whole lot better – close your eyes, disappear – if you can’t see them then they can’t see you.” In “The Kill In Me,” female vocals are used to deliver a creepy chorus that describes using one’s hands to commit murder rather than a knife for fear of nervous hands preventing a clean cut. The imagery P.O.S. creates both lyrically and musically on Audition
really is astounding; each track has a unique feel and personality that adds to the cinematic atmosphere contained within. When P.O.S. describes a horrific car crash taking place during a Minnesota winter ("Paul Kersey to Jack Kimball"), you feel like you can see your breath in the cold night air as the vehicle burns to the ground.
P.O.S. steps outside the conventions of the standard "life story" song in De La Souls, which feature a steady bassline and an uplifting chorus assisted by Greg Attonito of The Plastic Constellations. When he begins the song with "I am P.O.S., I'll be the new generation of slaves; here to make papes' of this land corporations rape -- from that life I'm trying to separate, but I guess I'm living dreams cause my rent's always a month late," the listener isn't just hearing the narrative -- they're living it. It is moments like these that take the record from merely excellent into something transcendent. Slug from Atmosphere assists on "Bush League Psyche-Out Stuff" and the song turns into an impromptu battle between the two rappers in an effort to top the lyrical wizardry present in the previous verse. When Slug spits, "I lost my god inside of a bush that sprouts nuke bombs...we've arrived to loosen up the noose that keeps us lifted and rip these stitches while I introduce this Piece of Sh*t," P.O.S. quickly counters with "now stand back, let me be the target, let your bullet hit -- I'll handle that, let me see you flex aggressive ignorance...acting like your stitches ripping." The back-and-forth between the emcees propells the song forward and conveys the image of a live rap-battle. There truly isn’t a dull moment on the album, and the momentum stays consistent from beginning to end.
It’s been said that Doomtree and more specifically P.O.S. is hip-hop for people that don’t like hip-hop and to a certain extent that’s true. There are a lot of elements present here that aren’t found in more traditional hip-hop and these ideas can make the sound more accessible to listeners who are typically fond of alternative, punk and metal. However, if any hip-hop head dismisses this album based solely on aesthetic reasoning they could be missing out on one of the better hip-hop releases in recent memory.