Review Summary: are ya winning son
In some ways, following the career of Travis Miller (aka Lil Ugly Mane, bedwetter, Shawn Kemp, many more) can feel like checking in on a struggling friend at heightened, distinct points on the road to... somewhere. From the bluster and exaggerated trappings of MISTA THUG ISOLATION
to a peek behind the curtain with "On Doing an Evil Deed Blues", one of the finest hip-hop songs of the decade; then Oblivion Access
' bleak admission of "I'm not ok" giving way to the empty, hollowed-out numbness of bedwetter Volume 1
. If you trace along my overly linear and simplified line, what followed next (perhaps the unreleased but extant bedwetter Volume 2
) should be staring into the abyss itself, no hope or feeling left to speak of.
But life doesn't work in straight lines and neither does Travis Miller. VOLCANIC BIRD ENEMY AND THE VOICED CONCERN
is a departure in every way - the lack of rapping and replacement of hard-hitting beats with surreal psychedelic sampling barely scratches the surface. Miller sings the whole album in a pretty damn capable baritone, and combined with the unsettlingly cheery samples, the overall effect resembles George Clanton hanging out with Wildflower
-era Avalanches in the Black Lodge. It's hard to get a grasp on the tone of the album: even without jarring moments like Miller singing "if everything was styrofoam, I wouldn't be alive" over a sickly upbeat sample, VOLCANIC BIRD ENEMY...
is hard to square with the man who gave us flick your tongue against your teeth and describe the present
and disappeared from the music game.
When VOLCANIC BIRD ENEMY...
nails a big swing, the results are among the best from the LUM moniker or any other. Career high "HEADBOARD" rides an absolutely addictive six-note sample straight to instant classic status, while the post-punky "PORCELAIN SLIGHTLY" remains one of the best singles released this year, equally catchy and shockingly dark, one Scottish accent away from fitting in on the next Twilight Sad release. But the deep cuts are equally intoxicating, including "BENADRYL SUBMARINE"'s mantra-like repetition, "VPN"'s mind-bending melting pot of samples, or the near-Oblivion Access
-level bleakness of "DISCARD" fucking up the lovely soundscape set by beat-tape instrumental "BEACH HARNESS". There are misses, more from a failure to stick an ambitious landing than any lack of ideas: "HUMAN FLY" never finds a way to marry its Cronenbergian lyrical metaphor to a satisfying structure, and the too-goofy cowboy strum of "CURSOR" feels more like a throwaway joke than a track that belongs on something this distinctly realised.
The album ends with Miller singing of a "rotting home/rotted home" over ice-cold jabs of electric guitar, but the overall sensation is somehow soothing rather than abjectly upsetting. What to make of a record like this, simultaneously calming and choking, one which sucks all the air out of the room you're in and replaces it with laughing gas? Fuck if I know: the thing's been out for three days, and I'm still discovering little pieces of Oblivion Access
and flick your tongue against your teeth...
that I've never noticed before. Travis Miller's work has always been infinitely more complex than simple descriptors make it sound, and VOLCANIC BIRD ENEMY...
is perhaps the apotheosis of this. Warm, haunted, lovely and broken, this album provides you no roadmap to its secrets except the invitation to just fucking listen and find them for yourself. So yeah, why don't we all do that?