Review Summary: They supposed to be street, but really they actors
Part of what’s so terrifying about ‘God Given Tongue’, clipping.’s collaboration with poet-storyteller Bryan Lewis Saunders — mistaken, repeatedly, for the yet-to-be-released (or, I suppose, discovered
) ‘Story 3’ — is that in spite of its overtly fictional, i.e., cinematic, vocal passages, the narrated events feel, though coloured, no less real. Indeed I, unfamiliar with Saunder’s work, mistook at first the narration for, as opposed to the telling of a tale, a well-conducted interview — from inside or outside the mental hospital. A homeless man (as it goes), and so perhaps then, something of a schizophrenic. (Some correlation, not much, but I’ll take whatever I can to dismiss the narrator’s account.)
Consider, though, the nature of that account: not so out of the ordinary so as to justify your disregarding it so readily. (And yet, for this reason, strange enough to keep you on edge, to fuel nightmares and, yes
, you admit, totally earnest midday freak-outs.) It’s not as though religious organisations don’t ever take advantage of vulnerable peoples, or, likewise, don’t ever compel the pious to speak in tongues. It’s not unusual, moreover, to meet or converse with men or women — unknown to you, at, say, the bus stop — for whom the supernatural (the viscerally inexplicable) is, or appears to be, a firmly and tolerably accepted part of their everyday lives — colouring in equal measure the stories they tell and demons they spit at strangers.
Which is to say that ‘God Given Tongue’, like much of clipping.’s work — present album included — is more often than not grounded largely in reality. Vaguely, too, in politics. This in spite of a bombastic, histrionic charm. A flirtation with fiction that does, on occasion, stumble confidently into the realms of fu
ckfest. What makes the trio’s unique blend of noise and hip-hop so effective, however, isn’t any kind of obvious messaging, or an attempt at allegory. It’s that you don't have to read it in any particular way. ‘Nothing is Safe’ and ‘He Dead’, for instance (the second and third tracks on clipping.’s latest, There Existed an Addiction to Blood
, in fact, be about police brutality. Single 'La Mala Ordina' may
, in turn, be a sly attempt at challenging some heterosexual suppositions about rap. 'Run for Your Life' (and, to a lesser extent, 'Story 7') may
, like CLPPNG
’s 'Body and Blood' before it, seek to subvert similarly gendered norms of sex and violence.
But — again — they don’t have to be.
Indeed, the beauty of Blood
is that unlike on 2016’s Splendor & Misery
, there is no sprawling, overarching narrative. Rather, it mimics the approach taken on the group’s lauded sophomore album, CLPPNG
(2014), which strung together shorter, jumbled, and often unfocussed vignettes centring around common themes of sex, violence, and, occasionally, storytelling itself. Blood
is, in many ways, a continuation of this exploration; and, like all good parables, keeps itself open to interpretation.
An equally reductive — though, I think, far funner — interpretation would be that the album is nothing more than cheap ‘80s horror schlock whose gimmick is, at least in part, the (re)dressing of gangsta rap tropes in over-the-top, borderline parodic garbs.
To soundtrack this, producers Hutson and Snipes — who have, since the release of 2013’s midcity
, soundtracked many a horror romp — adopt a familiar jumble of static, screams, and synths.
Good as it is, opener and lead-single ‘Nothing is Safe’ is no great indication: repetitive piano jabs dance about wobbly, sci-fi synth patterns, and then, at the song’s climax — while Daveed warms up for what’s to come — there is the unwelcome introduction of trap-inspired hi-hat patters that make the song, no matter how lyrically compelling, sound less like progression, and more like gimmick. Thank God, then, for ‘La Mala Ordina’, which, in addition to setting the scene, demonstrates just what Hutson and Snipes are capable of. Whereas on past albums, the two seemed careful not to intrude upon Daveed’s lucid, borderline trans
lucent verbal acrobatics, here they allow shots of static to pierce and ultimately overwhelm the last of the song’s verses. What follows is a minute-and-a-half of straight-up noise, and it’s fu
Another example of the two’s having stepped it up is on ‘All in Your Head’, whose climax consists of — in addition to blood-thumping percussion — waves of distortion and incongruous keyboard flourishes that elevate an already impassioned vocal performance by Counterfeit Madison’s fantastic Sharon Udoh into something that is, despite the song’s aural contortionism, downright gorgeous. Other notable moments include: ‘Run for Your Life’s’ use of diegetic sound (huffs, barks, footsteps, cars, their stereos) to backdrop an otherwise sinister beat; the howling hellscapes that haunt the backend of ‘Club Down’; an eighteen-minute performance of Annea Lockwood’s ‘Piano Burning’ that sounds as much like a piano burning as it does some sort of burial
Of the work of South African novelist J.M. Coetzee, Andrew van der Vlies writes: “to insist on a single interpretation […] is in some ways to refuse to remain open to its suggestive complexity”. To argue that Blood
is as conducive to non-interpretation as Coetzee’s novels would be to aspire to a level of hyperbole I’m as yet unprepared for. Nevertheless, that phrase, “suggestive complexity”, strikes me as appropriate.
Which is to say: I ramble because I have to. Because, even after weeks of listening to Blood
, I find it difficult to grasp. Because Daveed, the hottie, is a tease. Because Hutson and Snipes, at their best, are of a few capable of successfully soundtracking Daveed’s Kafkan parables. Because, perhaps, Blood
is nothing more than a little fun. Because I think it is
something more. Because it doesn't have to be. Because Blood
, at its heart — if, indeed, it has one — is a puzzle, whether it intends to be or not.