Sounds Are Active
t’s time for everyone to acknowledge the fact that there is a burgeoning group of underground Christian artists slowly rising from that seemingly inescapable tomb and into the realm of indie-music with Detroit native and banjo virtuoso Sufjan Stevens leading the way. Both Stevens and Daniel Smith of the Danielson Famile, however, also head labels almost entirely devoted to these types of artists (Asthmatic and Sounds Familyre, respectively). Then there is Sounds Are Active Records, the L.A. based project of Chris Schlarb. Specializing in Christ-filled avant-music, Sounds Are Active’s roster boasts Firefly, a “rapper” who is pioneering a new “Beatspeak” movement in LA, the improvisational ambient music of Patagonian, and Schlarb’s own strange-free-jazz improv group, Create (!). The newest release by the label is a Soul-Junk influenced artist named Bizzart.
Last year, Soul-Junk, a band led by the Holy Ghost ravings of Glen Galaxy, put out one of the strangest records that you are likely to hear labeled under the guise “hip-hop.” The record, 1958, was full of dense, stream-of-consciousness Biblical raps layered over free-form jazz breakbeats and cut up instruments: it was either genius or just fucking noise (most reviewers leaned towards the former.) On the record, Galaxy brought in sound manipulator Slo-Ro as well as a young rapper with only two EP’s to his belt, named Bizzart.
Supposedly six years in the making, Bizzart’s debut full length, Ear Drung, is being pushed as another notch in the fledging experimental-hip-hop-with-a-Christian-edge movement that is currently being led by Soul-Junk. When asked what kind of music he makes, Bizzart’s practiced answer is that he’s “the male version of Bjork that raps.” When describing Ear Drung, Bizzart never forgets to add that it was made with “disregard for current style and trend.” But as hard as Bizzart tries to paint himself as a visionary in the experimental-hip-hop genre, the fact is that Ear Drung is really not that strange. Oh, it’s strange when compared to the newest Lil’ Flip single, but compared to cLOUDDEAD, Beans, or Soul-Junk, it’s downright rudimentary.
A look at the production notes will instantly reveal that the groundbreaking tracks were produced (or co-produced) by people not named Bizzart. Soul-Junk had a hand in producing two of the weirder (and better) tracks of the album: “Hivek,” which sound so similar to Soul-Junk’s 1958 (specifically “Autosmuddling,” which Bizzart guested on) that it could very well be a b-side; and “Pink Summer In Hell,” which is as menacing and as strange a hip-hop track you’re likely to hear this year. Cut up voice samples of women mumbling nonsensical words screech out of the right speaker as a horror-film synth sample weaves back and forth in the mix. Glen Galaxy of Soul-Junk has said he’s probably not the guy who’s going to “dial anybody up a hit single,” and “Pink Summer” is proof of that.
Elsewhere, production duties are handled by Accident (a pseudonym too appropriate for words.) His style, along with Bizzart’s lyrics, gives the record the aura of a macabre sci-fi comic book. The opener “Ear Drung/Illuminate” is basically a three and a half minute mood setter, with ominous, pulsing electronics and Bizzart’s buried, sped-forward, and multi-layered lyrics battling back and forth like an army of men. “Infinite Zero” could almost be the beginning of a new sci-fi-jazz-rap genre. The sound of metallic spaceship doors slam shut and open while a free-jazz ensemble consisting of acoustic piano, clarinet and claribone freak out on the port. Guest rapper Zane makes an appearance on the track, and provides a welcome verse of near-lucidity: “My toes laid in the footprints he made / And that gave us new names to master and slave / It was heartfelt abusing to self like introducing wealth to a poor man / The Holy Spirit to a pagan / Meat to a vegan / Honesty to politicians.”
Accident falters somewhere on the instrumentally dull “Wax,” with its droning electronics and its collided-lazer bass shots. Surprisingly, though, Bizzart gives one of his better raps on the song. “The wax understands me,” he begins, and then proceeds to spout off a rapid rhyme that references coke addicts, the March of Dimes, Johnny Knoxville, and his own deceased father in nearly the same breath.
Bizzart is a difficult lyricist to pin-down. His words are obviously crafted with precision, but so often they’re buried underneath production fuzz (“Negative Gravity”) and effects (“Illuminate”). With a density of subject matter and reference, trying to unravel his words will be what brings the listener back to the record. For now, though, most won’t return to the record for its instrumentation, but will instead go back to their Soul-Junk records—where they can have both the lyrics and the production. With some Visine and time (hopefully not another six years) Bizzart could stun.
Reviewed by: Gentry Boeckel
Reviewed on: 2004-07-09