Review Summary: bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkon...
Injury Reserve are a hip-hop group who make music that is fundamentally based in Rhythm & Poetry. Their latest release, By the Time I Get to Phoenix
, was catalysed by an improvised DJ set of their very own rap music in a small club which yielded surprising and fascinating results. Using our rich powers of deduction and boundless knowledge of genre conventions, we can confidently state th–
“this is NOT a hip hop album”
sputnikmusic user JayEnder, September 15th, 2021
Huh? It sure seems an essential slice of taxonomy to lend context to this album. I get it, though. There's a few sounds being toyed with here, like, uh...
“abstract production meets dissonant riffs a la This Heat’s Deceit”
sputnikmusic user luci, September 15th, 2021
Oh sweet Jesus, how deep does this go? How do we engage with By the Time I Get to Phoenix
on its own terms? I've certainly been trying. Three days have passed. The straws I'm clutching at have chafed to a fine dust in my clammy palms. Some field testing is in order.
“What the fuck are we listening to?”
Milo's long-suffering better half, September 18th, 2021
Righto. Even my dysfunctional social barometer should've called that. By the Time I Get to Phoenix
will inevitably exclude listeners with its abstract and surreal leanings, its frank and inherent engagement with grief, but it's not entirely defined by either. While the ghost of Stepa J. Groggs haunts this album, the experience is not overwhelmingly maudlin. Far from it; 'Wild Wild West' relates 5G conspiracy to the five-time Razzie Award winning film of the same name, which might sound like the silliest fucking thing, but it doesn't compromise the album's sincerity at all. Meanwhile, the beats attack in a twitching, glitching, spaced-out fervour while somehow avoiding becoming an irritating cerebral challenge. By the Time I Get to Phoenix
is jam-packed with such paradoxes. It doesn't subsist on any one simple act of juxtaposition or subversion, and it'll have your mind spinning elliptical should you attempt to corner it and demand its raison d'être. The only option is to listen.
Ritchie with a T's stop-start diatribe in 'Outside' kickstarts the experience in disorienting fashion. He makes infrequent attempts at consistent cadence while lurching through a stream of trash talk. The instrumental's meandering melody worms its way through small variations while the opening monologue is slowly recontextualised into muffled background noise, roiling as thunderclouds wreathed around the track's amorphous heartbeat. Meanwhile a pitch-lowered vocal enters with the threat that “this don't end in agree to disagree
”. Following this warning the instrumental is finally given the lead, a descending minor chord progression shakily building steam as burnt melodies flit to-and-fro, Ritchie's panting manipulated into clustered swarms, tapering the gentle expansion of the instrumental back to claustrophobia.
'Superman That' is a violent change of pace. When Injury Reserve were recently in conversation with the internet's most melonious music nerd they rejected the limitation of experimental labels and the intellectual dead-end of approaching this track from a cerebral standpoint. To paraphrase, Ritchie told us to simply feel the music. Sage fucking advice this has turned out to be. Although many of the tracks here seethe and lurch, obscure and feint, play games of rhythmic breakcore while stilted, effect-laden vocals circle and jab, the end result is not an imparseable brick wall of unpleasant experimentation; it's a garden of unearthly delights.
If 'Outside' was Alice peering over the rabbit hole, eyes glittering and curious as she musters what resolve she can, and 'Superman That' an arm thrust straight from Wonderland's core tugging her tumbling to depths unknown, the album as it follows is a technicolour montage of insanity in all its guises, glorious and terrible. 'SS San Francisco''s dusty descending four-note bassline sounds like the end of the fucking world, and somehow the immense percussion that acccompanies reserves an extra dose of low end to make Ritchie's verse pop like a toaster strudel. 'Footwork in a Forest Fire' starts uptempo enough to inspire cranium-led defenestration before it devolves, momentum flagging, detuning itself to an unholy death. 'Ground Zero' is a dystopian shitshow, everything collapsing, disintegrating, the humour in the lyrics and hall-of-fame ad libs all that can save us now. 'Smoke Don't Clear' follows maybe the funniest intro of all time with a hilarious and surreal vocal performance over uptempo IDM chromaticism. 'Postpostpartum' feels like floating on a wave of success, blissing out, the gong of your heart just straight vibrating. 'Bye Storm''s Brian Eno sample serves as a swirling basis for what could almost be a Black Lodge rendition of 'Closing Time' in some world or another.
Mention non sequiturs somewhere
It's not all so disconnected and crazy as that might all sound, though. Two songs in particular give this album a raw emotional core that somehow seeps through into tracks that they don't even touch. 'Top Picks for You' is a slice of gorgeous, heartbreaking poetry. A loose arrangement around a simple, bleeding melody allows for a potent contemporary take on the space left behind by the recently departed, algorithms invoked both metaphorically and literally to illustrate how loved ones' silhouettes can seem outlined in day-to-day life by the most innocuous things. 'Knees' is the second pure heartbreaker of the album, sudden stabs of guitar underlying a tale of physical deterioration and spiritual stagnation, Groggs stepping in for the final verse to further clarify the nature of his addiction: “Okay, this last one is my last one, shit / Probably said that about the last one / Probably gon' say it 'bout the next two...
“i listen 2 music p. broadly and I honestly couldn't tell you that anything else sounds like this. some sui generis ass shit. gonna Loveless a whole genre on us”
sputnikmusic user Winesburgohio, September 16th, 2021
An artist has released an album, and people are confused, angry, and afraid. Collateral listeners lodging with forum-dwelling weirdos are already chirping a familiar refrain along with bumps-in-the-whip-vibe-chasers involving the words “just” and “noise”, but those that are enjoying By the Time I Get to Phoenix
are partaking in an unusual form of hyperbole which contains little consensus beyond the album being really fucking good. It's tempting to refer to the album's serendipitous and explicit portrayal of grief as the overwhelming factor here, but this buries the life-affirming humour, the abstract emoting, and the joyously impetuous music that underlies good portions of the release. On that last point, it's also tempting to use that nice catch-all term “production” and start singing Parker Corey's praises. This wouldn't really be a mistake. Parker proves here that he's not only ahead of the curve, but a thoroughly outlying anomaly who probably can hear dog whistles, see UV light, and orate at length about the significance of neologism in Finnegans Wake
. Yet this album begins and ends with a group of people and their artistic synthesis. Ritchie and Groggs' performances across the album are dynamic, bizarre, outrageously creative, and underpinned by lyrics that are as effective at distracting and surprising the unsuspecting listener as they are at explicitly hanging their own cold truths on the line for the world to gawk at. What these artists have pulled together in their last outing as a trio is something more than the sum of its parts, a paradoxical masterpiece that lies somewhere in the space between, blindingly bright and painfully incomprehensible.