Review Summary: What’s his name?
With all apologies to Jai Paul, I simply can’t imagine this album any other way than how it’s been presented to us. When he recently released a statement lamenting the slapdash sequencing, I couldn’t help but feel he was maybe a bit too close to the situation, and reasonably so, but still: the frenzied and restless pace lends itself to an indelible and thrilling listen. Paul’s story is now long the stuff of myth, and Leak 04-13
is a stirring and fitting culmination: a wunderkind drip feeds music to the public; somehow, still unknown all these years later, someone leaks an album’s worth of material; Paul disappears completely, leaving fans wondering if he will ever return; as if appearing out of thin air, this remastered collection and two stunning singles surface, along with a shockingly lengthy and transparent statement from the enigmatic artist. Fancying himself a bit of a perfectionist (one listen to the music, and well, duh), the leak deeply traumatized Paul, and after years of therapy, distraction, and finally something resembling acceptance, he has remastered and officially released these songs to the public. For those in the know, it’s a rapturous event; for others understandably ignorant, it’s an exciting if baffling occasion.
This story is going to be rehashed ad nauseam over the coming days and weeks and will more than likely haunt Jai Paul his entire career, but I include it not only as context for those out of the loop, but as a crucial prologue to the very fabric of the album itself. You see, Leak 04-13
is the perfect storm, in an instance of cruel irony lending itself perfectly to this narrative: it is chaotic and singular and subtly sad and ends on a triumphant note of self-assertive autonomy. If you didn’t know better, you could almost assume this album is the response to all of this tumult, as all of the ingredients are there. It simply sounds like a self-assured statement ready to be pored over. The fact that it existed in this form prior to all of this turmoil instead only adds to the mythos of it all.
So, now let me set the record straight: in no uncertain terms, there is truth to this myth. Leak 04-13
is stupendous, an effervescent document of crystalline pop perfection and prodigious production mastery. It begins with a collection of youthful voices goofing around, asking who Jai Paul is, and ends with the artist confidently asserting “I’m back for what’s mine
”. In between is a relentless showing of genius. ‘Str8 Out Of Mumbai’ seamlessly marries organic tala rhythms with warped blasts of funk guitar, energetic Prince-esque vocalizations, and rapid-fire synth arpeggios. It ends with traditional Hindustani singing quickly being flipped into a delirious auto-tuned sample; the juxtapositions of classic pop in the lineage of Prince with the more electronic sounds of the current decade are then layered atop Paul’s inclusion of his Indian roots, and this is the first song
. Boundless creativity and inexplicable ingenuity can be found in every single song. ‘Raw Beat’, clocking in at under 30 seconds, opens with a sample of a young women discussing cannibalistic pleasures until the song detonates with the word ‘raw’, tribal rhythms and trilling coos framing the woman’s declaration that she ‘likes it raw
. It is creepy, sensual, hilarious and strange, all at once. That it is all of these things in the span of 30 seconds is frankly astounding. ‘100,000’ has chunky videogame-esque keyboard and hip-hop thwap as a backdrop for a beguiling cluster of competing vocals, only for it all to fall away, Paul’s falsetto closing the track as an almost indiscernible rumble fades in the background. Distorted, in-your-face hip-hop elements, subtle electronic embellishments, and gorgeous falsetto-led pop hooks are joined into a head spinning but harmonious whole. The album never seems to run out of a new way to present these ideas, and it is unforgettably attention grabbing for the entire duration.
concludes with ‘BTSTU’, which I believe will go down as its defining song for a multitude of reasons. It stands as the album’s most beautiful and affecting track, for both extra-textual and immediately apparent reasons, the most overtly melodic and plainly beautiful while also the most assertive and meta. It slowly fades in on a knot of vocal harmonies so immaculate you wish they’d never end, Paul quietly but steadfastly telling the listener, the public, each and every single person who’s attention he now commands on his own terms, don’t fuck with me
. Crunchy synth splashes, crisp snare hits and that heavenly falsetto harmonizing underscore a robotic voice that intones ‘I know I’ve been gone a long time, but I’m back and I want what is mine
.’ Various horns carry the song, and album, out on an air of victory lap triumph. During a time of such division and visceral upheaval, Jai Paul closes out the decade with a story that we need and that he deserves: one that wavers from hard work to hardship, disillusionment to determination, silence to statement. Where he goes from here is anybody’s guess, and that’s okay. He leaves us with one hell of a story. It’s some sort of miracle that the music is even better.