Review Summary: on the couch; on the fence
The setting: a seedy recording studio in the murk and marsh of Florida. XXXtentacion, rising hip-hop-cum-lo-fi-indie-cum-???? star, is putting the finishing touch on his album by recording “The Explanation”.
XXXTENTACION: “Here is my pain and thoughts put into words. I put my all into this, in the hopes that it will help cure, or at least numb, your depression. I love you. Thank you for listening. Enjoy.”
XXX turns to a handsome and debonair companion in the room, not a member of his coterie but a confidante nonetheless.
“Yo Wines man, whatchoo think?”
WINES: Well I think you’ve set yourself one hell of a goal, curing or numbing peoples depression. You and I both know it doesn’t work like that -- it is interesting, I concede, that music can ameliorate depression temporarily, or at least temper it’s jagged edges, and you are quite right that during dark moments dark music can provide incomparable solace and illumination, I am perfectly comfortable calling Courtesy and Goodwill, and Songs of Love and Hate, and A Promise, life-savers, but saying you’ll cure someone’s depression? It just doesn’t work like that. I worry that your words will be interpreted as naive, rather than poignant, disingenuous rather than intimate --
XXX: Nahh man I mean the album
WINES: Well, unfinished but not unpolished. I think when it soars is when it compenetrates tossed-off indie folk with trap rap stylings in a way I haven’t heard before. The way the two work together sounds mellifluous in such a way i’m surprised i hadn’t encountered it before, but more importantly it really does, I think, succeed, in conveying your sheer misery and despondency. As we both know, depression so often manifests itself physically, one finds oneself literally unable to claw one's way out of bed without the stimuli of nicotine or worse to entice you, and the sluggish, “vagrant having a go at busking” chords combined with listless rapping captures that sluggishness, that torpor, beautifully. And your voice has improved so much dude! I mean, like, when you croon “depression and obsession don’t mix well” it should be trite, but you put so much truth into it - “hollywood motels, hell, i think i’m just obsessed with you” - with emoesque backing vocals. She’s a beaut. And I commend the honesty and directness with which you describe suicidal ideation and self-harm. I think music from any genre tends to gloss over it, which makes opening track Jocelyn Flores one hell of an opening statement: “suicidal, same time i’m take / picture this, in bed, got a phone call / girl that you ***ed with killed herself / that was this summer and nobody helped”. I mean, ain’t that how it goes.
XXX: but you said unfinished
WINES: Yeah, although I’m not sure it was the most apposite word. I don’t know, it’s like -- some of the songs work and some of them don’t. The piano ballad Orlando is truly dreadful, the kind of thing Adam Levine would play at the VMA’s, and is especially disappointing coming off the back of the galvanizing tonics of “*** Love” and “Carry On”. And Everybody Dies in Their Nightmares? C’mon dude, you’re just asking to be accused of juvenalia. And I like Revenge well enough, it’s fine, but its placement is so injudicious! Frankly it doesn’t gel with the rest of the album at all -
XXX: alright alright i get it. But you like it.
WINES: I do, god help me, i do. When I think about the album it’s the aching opening bars of Jocelyn Flores (“I know you’re somewhere / somewhere”) or the experimental, almost militaristic march of “Save Me” I come back to, not the albums deficiencies, though I assure you the latter are numerous. Go back to the recording studio and *** out a couple of tracks more conducive to the theme of the album, maybe elongate some of the tracks so they become more ideation than sketch, Depression and Obsession in particular, chuck ***ing Orlando…
XXX: Too late posted it lol.
XXX: The *** you mean interesting.
WINES: Well certainly this is going to weaponise your detractors. But I understand the impulse to release unfinished, or untouched work because I do the same thing. Is it because, subconsciously, I crave acclaim or kind words and need the validation like I do cigarettes, on the hour every hour, and pesky things like “editing” and “patience” get in the way of that? Is it because of heady recklessness, a certain rash poor impulse control i exhibit in real life that transmutes itself in my writing because, well, my writing is so much a part of me? Or is it because of a certain aesthetic impulse, which has many antecedents -- well, have you heard of Beckett?
XXX: Yeah man almost kicked it last night, but I threw up in it instead.
WINES [hurriedly]: Well. Quite. But he famously refused to edit his work, and indeed his second novel has never been proofed -- despite being riddled with errors, he refused to let anyone fix it up, based on the authenticity he perceived as being imbued in the novel by virtue of lack of proofing, the visceral and urgent nature of it exemplified. Similarly, scholars like Mark Williams and Eleanor Catton have exalted the first novel, despite their inevitable errors and excesses, because of the raw energy, the reckless paint-flinging, the infelicities necessary to finding a voice…
XXX [yawns]: yo man what’s your point i’ve got bitches to ***
WINES [hopefully]: can i have o-
XXX [fervently]: NO
WINES [retreating]: fair, fair. But you asked for my point. This whole first start has generated works of inimitable genius and, shall we say, mis-fires, and I think this album, on the whole, veers far closer to the latter. Which is no biggie! I mean look at Dostoyevsky, or Woolf, or Foster Wallace -- they ***ed up first time round too. But I digress. Your album is hurried, tossed-off, unlaboured. Forgive me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you tossed some of these songs out along with your nocturnal onanistic activities. But the disjunct between that and the sincerity and reflective nature of this album, this deeply introspective work which foregos the usual work and blood and sweat and tears put into introspective works… well that’s a juxtaposition that intrigues me, and intrigues me greatly. And I keep coming back, even if i find some of the songs distasteful, or outright bad.
XXX: So you’re excited to see what comes next?
WINES: Succinctly and adroitly put.
XXX: Sweet. Well I’ve got a go, but send me your review for editting eh? There are heaps of grammar errors, formatting errors, spelling mistakes… be a shame not to touch those up.
WINES: Too late already posted it lol.