Collecting the Kid

(Definitive Jux; 2004)

By Aaron Newell | 3 November 2004

Collecting the Kid runs the gamut from carefully-orchestrated crash-jazz (quite compelling), to two drunk-and-high dudes crooning love songs to each other in the studio (gross), to misplaced clips of dialogue from an “upcoming film” (product placement--there was no Pepsi on the Death Star, El). We also get a heaping spoonful of old instrumentals of songs we’re too familiar with (albeit because we played the hell out of them when they first dropped). Yes, I am doing you a favour by dashing those hopes. This ain’t no Fan Dam II, the pipedream sequel to a kick-in-the-nose genre-buster as volatile as Endtroducing and Latyrx and any other classic prog-hop you’d care to throw at it. We know El is capable as hell, and that’s what makes Collecting the Kid so frustrating: it gets a “shit” for effort. But you already knew that if you did your homework.

The qualifier: Collectors Only (take the cue from the title or the purported 1000-disc limited run). Essentially, this is El-P at playtime, all over a disc of “rarities.” And homey does some pretty weird things in his sandbox.

Example: crooner “Oxycontin.” The liner notes state: “We were really drunk and high and I forced Camu (Camu Tao, soon to be appearing with El-P as “Central Services”) to sing for an hour straight. Camu made the lyrics up on the spot…” No! Really?: “BABAY! We are all alone / Body feels like it’s gold / And you on that stuff / Pop a pill yeah…what the fuck is going on?” It must have killed him to take out so much great material, but El-P eventually whittled the semiliterate hour down to five minutes and sampled some Yanni-slash-prolonged farting to soundtrack our enlightenment. The result is as painful as you’d expect a hatchet two-man frat party to be; it’s a hip-hop cock-rock love ballad more blatant than anything Sisqo ever turned out--except devoid of even the worst kind of sincerity.

“Constellation (remix)” is equally disjointed and equally painful. El’s stuttering synths and kicks are supposed to--I’m assuming--provide an interesting interplay with Montreal’s Stephanie Vezina’s smooth Tropley-Bird impression. No sir. It worked for Tricky eleven years ago; today it’s intolerable hack. El-P’s beats are too busy for sizzurpy soul vocals.

That’s the end of the painful; we could now move on to the “just boring,” but I’ll go past most of the borderline ambient clips from the Bomb the System soundtrack and onto the stuff we’ve heard before (draw your own conclusion from that juxtaposition). The instrumentals from Mr. Lif’s “Post Mortem” and Murs’ “The Dance” both happily appear on Collecting (dressed-up and as-is, respectively), and both dance topless without losing our attention. Despite these classics, the biggest treat on the record is “Feel Like a Ghost,” which was recorded in prep for the new Can Ox record now shelved due to the fact that Vast Aire ate Vordul. The liner notes lament: “…they both decided to do their solo stuff and we never recorded it.” Damn shame: Mega’s terminator-like cadence would fit this perfectly; the drums relentlessly drive forward, there’s the trademark sweet-wash of synths, some jazz piano thrown in. . . altogether, a simple stunner of a beat. Dear El-P (cough): please give this to someone, soon.

The other noteworthy track on Collecting comes from High Water, El’s instrumental jazz record on Matthew Shipp’s Thirsty Ear imprint. “Intrigue in the House of India” is almost twitchmaking to start. Two cracked pianos debate over what time signature to use as wood-block percussion seems to agree with both. The listener eventually warms up, and when El’s robots finally storm the lounge bar and kill the yuppies, the track hypnotizes like Dr. Mabuse. According to a near-apologetic El-P:“It was the first time I had ever done anything like that, and this is one of the tracks where I think it really worked.” Well, shit, so do I, but for all its progressive open-mindedness and live instrumentation, “India” sticks out more than “Oxycontin,” and for all the opposite reasons. Then again, I’m complaining about coherence on a rarities disc, which is like complaining about verbosity on an Aesop Rock record or a groupie reference from Murs. Some things you just accept.

I doubt anyone was expecting Collecting the Kid to fill Fantastic Damage’s massive steel-toed rocket-powered spike-heeled clown shoes, but even listeners who were hoping for eleven unrelated instances of nurtured and loved production are going to be a little let down. Give the man a break: “Feel Like a Ghost” shows that there’s top notch work yet to be done while “Constellation” and “Oxycontin” show that people do stupid shit on vacation. Everything else proves what we already know: El-P is a consistent burner-maker, and his work should be put on display regardless of isolated failings in genre tourism. I just hope that next time he edits his bare ass out of the slide show.