Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives EP
(Def Jux; 2005)
By Aaron Newell | 23 March 2005
“I painted a sunny day on the inside of my eyelids…”
As one of few recording artists in any genre to have crafted his own personal mythology (“the Jeff Mangum of this rap shit”), Ian Bavitz is actually unique in both his cranky hot-pisstream delivery and huh/what use of symbolism and imagery (“unique” save the pitiful rip-off artist that is domain-name-squatting Arecee; see www.scribblejam.com). From his revelry in misanthropy (“Coma”), to attacks on social structure (“Daylight,” “Labor”), to parables about passion-driven urban hermits who die alone-but-satisfied with their life’s work (“No Regrets”), Bavitz has consistently wrung the stone of should-be-jibberish to produce meaningful, poignant, bile-on-paper. His consistent artistic autonomy has made him King of his very own city block castle in Wonderland, ruler of a dominion of cynical, take-no-shit, world-wary hip hop kids who (because a lot of them live in New York) aren’t allowed to like Anticon, but who still demand more poetry in their fuckyous than Nas can pinch onto a double-album.
Rock’s well-earned following is so dedicated, in fact, that it’s perfectly safe for him to pull tricks like releasing a mediocre EP with a cheaply-bound career-spanning lyric-book (_Appleseed_ and Earthworms were self-released and therefore not part of his “career,” apparently) in a “limited” run of 25,000. My respect for Bavitz’ previous work leaves me with issues with the presentation: hip hop writing this original deserved hardcover or lace binding rather than the glue and cardboard and newspaper print packaging it received. My Grade 6 yearbook looked better than this thing (and contained a lot of the same video game references). Nevertheless, it’s nice to have some of the best rap of the past seven years compiled into one easy-to-lose package.
The seven-track disc that accompanies The Living Human Curiosity Sideshow is called Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives and is indeed the Aesop Rock version of the cheap thrills it suggests.
The title track leaked on www.razorbladerunner.cadenceweapon.com back in January and ranks with Rock’s best (as do most Blockhead-produced Aesop joints) with its evil low-end, thick drums, and our director having the most fun possible telling us how to live. Contrast that with the self-produced “Zodiaccupuncture,” which, save the sweet gameboy organ on the hook, packs about as much punch as a flatline. “Food, Clothes, Medicine” is another party problem, as it absolutely needs the cheap, ill-used porn soundbite just to hold listener attention. Regardless of whether the clip’s “artistic” purpose was to further comment on basic human needs, it’s never, ever a good idea to juxtapose female moans and skinslaps with the ad-libs of a gravelly-voiced male alpha-mc. Sing it with me y’all: ew.
“Holy Smokes,” on the other hand, is another fantastic Blockhead crusher, featuring layered glockenspiel, acoustic guitar, and eerie overdubbed vocal snippets that work their ways in and out of the track, interrupting Aesop and correspondingly freaking out the listener. Bavitz expertly mismatches images to enrich the overtread topic of religious struggles: “if only you’d memorize your prayers like you did your Kool G’s”; “Good neighbor know a halo wouldn’t fit over the horns”; “I’m more karma than bread and booze / I’m not an asshole, I’m just a little confused." This is by far the most well-crafted and resonating track on the record.
Which is too bad, because that acclaim would have gone to “Winners Take All” if Rob Sonic didn’t leave his IMAC on autobeat. This is what happens when a hip hop producer hears Moby say “the way technology is today, you can make an entire album in five minutes with three clicks” and decides to try it out. Bavitz fortunately meets the Telicatessen reject half-way and steamrolls right over it with a covert harangue against antagonistic (i.e. capitalistic) living. Rock equates birth with getting dropped in a war zone: “I have landed safely, I have not received my papers, I have zero natural enemies, I don’t know my location, I have no training in reconnaissance, combat or colluding, I’m calling for my orders, over." Sergeant Major CamuTao then commands: “Strap on a helmet and start shooting!” In other words: “Welcome, kid, enjoy”. It’s too bad the audience will likely sleep through the insightful writing thanks to Sonic’s DOA beat. And I hate that even more because the slept-on Telicatessen was hot front to back.
Finally, there’s “Rickety Rackety”, a posse track with El-P and Camu that sounds great with its shuffling drums and almost-swing sample, but has the intellectual content of the cartoon it’s named after. Camu needs to stop drinking in the studio. If they’d have traded vocals with “Winners,” and then cut the losers out, we’d have had one fantastic song, another stuck on the janitor’s shoe, and would all have been better off for it.
It must be tough to edit the tracklist of an EP, especially when you’re using it to sell a cheap book (swear to the gods, the Wordsworth edition of this would actually be an improvement). Fluff-heavy, Fast Cars snitches on the upcoming full-length: Blockhead better be back on beats, because Bavitz is moving in a sparse, faux-spacey direction that sounds bored compared to his busy work on Bazooka Tooth, Labor Days, and Daylight. But since there’s always going to be two or three songs on any Aesop release that deserve your Jukie-Board sig file, and especially since the The Living Human Curiosity Sideshow finally allows the listener to figure out what the lyrics to those great songs are, this one is just barely worth your lunch money as well.