Thursday, March 9, 2017

One Last Pick Thru the Bins Vol. 17: Odd Future. In Which I Really Stretch


"Psycho Kid Ruins Thanksgiving" feels like an interpretation. Also, with knives.
Odd Future gained notoriety (maybe of an extraordinary local kind) for telling its teenage fans to kill their parents. Maybe that was on the cover art to something they put out, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m the object of that sentiment, not the subject. Just so we’re all on the same page. Still, my oldest daughter lost her goddamn mind about Odd Future, and I’m still alive, so there’s that, too.

I didn’t put too much time into Odd Future, because I understand that they’re not for me. I’m also close to certain that I would never have picked up any of their stuff had my daughter not turned on to them like only a teenage boy can. (No typo.) Still, I wound up with The OF Tape Vol. 2 in my bins…and it wasn’t some half-assed attempt to “bond” with my daughter either. First of all, that shit doesn’t work; the last thing your kid wants to do with her parent is geek out over music. But she listened to them – and a lot – and I drove her to couple concerts, and kids have that thing about playing the band they’re about to go see on their way to the show, so they sorta became background noise to our lives for a couple years. And, if you’re curious enough about music, you find yourself listening to them one day. Sure, you’re listening to what your daughter is listening to…but it’s less about figuring out what she’s listening to, than whether or not you actually like it.

In case you’re not familiar, Odd Future was (and sort of is) a Los Angeles-based hip hop collective, one that included guys like Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean, and Earl Sweatshirt, but also associated/included acts like Jet Age of Tomorrow and The Internet, plus guys that I only heard my daughter say, but now know better, like Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis, and Mike G. (Did I get how all that shit fits together loosely right? Eh…not so much; I mean, there’s a whole mythology at play here, within the albums and outside them, so read more here and here; I mean, all that’s good to know – and some of latest news hit me as weirdly encouraging for reasons I’ll get to in the closing – but that’s not the focus here). (So…what is?)

Because I have stuff by Tyler and Earl and Frank Ocean and Jet Age of Tomorrow and…shit, never mind. Because I have some amount of Odd Future’s solo work elsewhere, I decided to limit the review of Odd Future to the two mixtapes (fuck, I dunno if they’re mixtapes; just…things, OK? Bodies of work they put out), 12 Odd Future Songs and The OF Tape Vol. 2. I’ll get to those solo projects later, and that only makes more sense after listening to two of Odd Future’s “official” releases.

There’s one line in “NY (Ned Flanders)” from The OF Tape Vol. 2 that sort of acknowledges what the whole project is about: “I'm sneaking in your kid's ear lobe; ‘Oh, no! It's him! Goblin!’” It’s a lot of pushing buttons, basically, wallowing in teen angst, real, imagined and amplified. Here’s where I pick up the parenthetical in the intro: I’ve met flesh-and-blood human beings who said to me, and emphatically, “They’re telling their fans to kill their parents! How is that OK!?”

It’s OK the same way violent video games are OK: if real human beings were truly as open to suggestion as half the goddamn world says they are, we’d all be dodging bullets throughout our commutes and swinging at each other with kitchen knives over the dinner table every night. When you give teenage boys/men a platform to speak their minds, they’ll talk pissed off – especially when the artist in question isn’t great on his dad (that’d be “Bastard”; OK, Tyler plays useful piano). Or, to take the worst collection of lyrics I heard from Tyler, they’ll talk about filming a sex slave he keeps in his basement (“French”). If there’s one emotion young males access clearer and more readily than any other, it’s anger. Guys of a certain age and disposition are pissed off all the damn time, so, if you ask them what they think, they’ll answer graphically. Your kid responds to that – even if it’s your daughter – because she’s pissed off at the world. I was too, and still am on several levels.

For all that, when you’ve got Fear’s “Let’s Have a War” (is it?) 40 years in your rear view, or if you’ve sat through John Waters’ Pink Flamingos a couple, three times, the stuff you hear in Odd Future’s repertoire doesn’t feel all that groundbreaking to you. Teen rage is timeless (also, not part of Pink Flamingos; that's more Female Trouble); it’s just the specifics of its expression that change with the times.

To finally get to the music, “I sorta hate this one” comes up more often than I’d like in my notes. The short list of tracks on that include “Bankrolls,” “Lean,” plus “Bitches,” and “Real Bitch” (which, today, feels like a long alt-right twitter thread; also, guys, “bitches” again? On the same album?). Just comparing songs, though, sells the collective narrative power of Odd Future short. I think you get a better contrast by the cold calm of “Bastard” and the superior atmospherics of “Analog 2” against the amped-up rage/sound of “50” or “We Got Bitches.” As much as this sounds like a nitpick, Odd Future feels more…right to me when they’re dead behind the eyes. Maybe it’s disposition, but I’ve always found screaming and shouting far, far less unnerving than someone quietly explaining just how fucked up everything is, and how fucked up you are, in particular.

I might have crossed up songs in there, but that’s an effect of Odd Future’s thematic sameness. To reframe that, I can remember the rage I felt as a teenager, but I can’t access it anymore. A proportionate collection of exceptions aside (e.g., kids with real problems), most teenage problems are trivia, and outright bullshit in the most embarrassing situations; they’re angry because they’re angry and, the further you get from that, and the deeper you get into real-life problems, the more tedious that feels. (On a related note, that last sentence skims the surface of why most teenagers shut out their parents and other adults.)

Yeah, yeah, enough old guy shit. I did find things to like in the “official” Odd Future oeuvre. I found that I liked just about anything that gave Mike G primary billing, but most of all “Forest Green” and “King.” None of Odd Future’s stuff hits me musically, but Mike G has the best flow of the bunch for me (and it’s not even close). With the other stuff, I like the vocal hook in “VCR” (the “press my buttons” thing), and I liked the tracks they put on for The Internet, even if not immensely. A couple “non-Mike G” tracks stand out for me – here, I’m thinking “Sam (Is Dead),” and for the line about Kurt Kobain alone (damn!) – but that also feels like a great opening for one last jab…

After listening to the Odd Future collections one last time today, I popped over to Quasimoto, an artist I love (and that Odd Future members give a shout out to in a couple places), to compare his sound against theirs. If you pick through all the songs in this post, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Quasimoto/Madlib does. Quasimoto evokes more moods, and tells different kinds of stories, and better onesm too; Odd Future, on the other hand, spits contempt and anger that borders on murderous; the broad starkness of most of their music builds on that vaguely psychopathic vibe, the sense of feeling so much that you stop feeling. That artistic integrity is neat and all, but, dark thoughts lose their power to shock when that's all you talk about and, musically, I find their relentless spareness boring, frankly. That’s part of why (again), the best song I can find outside the stuff by The Internet (“They Say” and “Ya Know”) would be “Rok Rok.” There’s some layering going over the looping in that one. But, again, that’s personal preference tangoing with age in a semi-geriatric dance, so…

By way of closing, I want to credit Odd Future’s artists on a couple levels. Their sound matches their tone really, really well on a lot of tracks. The ominous buzzing, those digitized violins on “67” fit a mood that’s best described as threatening, the idea of The Purge brought to life inside your own household. That’s a mood and a moment that caught fire for a reason. Second, and this picks up on the biographical links way up there (the "here" and "here," things, the second one, in particular), I’m genuinely excited to see how a couple of these guys grow into actual adulthood. As Odd Future, these guys were geniuses on the very specific level of being pissed off teenagers. How cleanly they hit that vibe makes one wonder what they can do with expressing each of their personal evolution.

And, one last thought: I think it’s goddamn brilliant that the youth can still come out with something that scares the shit out of adults. That’s what the teenage years are for, goddammit! This was my daughter’s punk rock, basically, and they share the same atonality as a punk band, or for a lot of the same reasons (most of which start and end with “fuck it!”). And that’s a good thing!

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