Local Only

(Clothes Horse Records; 2004)

By Aaron Newell | 19 October 2007

Hey Canadians, remember when Ralph “Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark” Klein---Premier of Alberta and purveyor of fine beef-fed-beef---got hammered, drove to an Edmonton shelter for homeless men, and threw a handful of coins and a mouthful of insults at its inhabitants? Remember how he screamed at them to go get jobs? Well, Epic is the antithesis of that guy.

Local Only is the latest release from the Prairie-raised thirtysomething silvermane who Clark Kents as “Erin Patrick Carroll." For those who have downloaded (for free from clotheshorserecords.com!) his debut 8:30 In Newfoundland you’ll know that Epic is a general all-around champ. A Federal Government employee, former truck driver, student loan dodger, hockey fan, beer-sharer, bus-to-worker in search of a decent relationship and someone to beatbox for, Carroll will eat half of your Kraft Dinner and buy you a replacement box next paycheque. He became your best friend after one spin of 8:30, pretty much put Newfoundland on the hip hop map (although do go find Johnny Hardcore’s disc for a great Newf-rap listen), writes songs about corrupt Saskatchewan cops who leave First Nations Canadians to die in frozen prairie fields, and recounts the plight of the Walmart shopping-cart attendants who lost their jobs “for thoss eagulle automated 25 cent return” carts. Epic cares in an irresistibly charismatic, so-Canadian, wheatfield-metropolis way. That Gord Downie meets Jack Kerouac meets Henry Rollins kind of way.

But he rhymes like Fargo.

The drawl of the Dirty South, the Hotlanta Twang, the Staten Slur and even the T-dot Regg-Eh Chat have all met their match in the Prairie Peep. Carroll is a field mouse with a bullhorn, but as such he’s also the glaring exception to Guru’s “It’s Mostly The Voice” rule. Epic’s notably downhome perspective and subject matter lend an inexplicably airtight “hip hop” authenticity to his words despite the obvious Frances McDormand influence. Local Only documents one of the most unique examples of it really being “mostly the attitude.” Epic says it best himself on the Soso-produced “It Ain’t Easy”: “I get my slang from my grandpa / I don’t get my slang from Kardinal Offishal.”

“Running Away from Saskatoon” starts the album off with a bare-bones boom-hat-bap and some fuzzied bass sounds. The song is a rant detailing Epic’s break-up with his girl, his brain-drain “exile” from jobless Saskatchewan, and how he dealt with these compounded life-changes by persuading himself that “Everyone needs some time on their own.” Epic’s ditching the party and pre-empting the finger-pointing. He’d rather go debate with Peter Pocklington or the ghost of Izzy Asper.

From here the album plays like a how-to-stick-it-to-the-man manual. On “Midnight Move,” Carroll joins forces with perpetual-victim Pipi Skid to instruct the listener on the various ways to skip out on rent. Pip waxes slumlord: “You know it’s just a place to crash, don’t call it home / And it ain’t like this shithole here is rent-to-own.” Epic deftly rhymes “equity” with “eventually” and namedrops Alexander Mogilny. You can smell the Molson in the carpet and almost hear Bob Cole on the radio. Soso rocks some tired strings and couch potato drums, but this beat is arguably the weakest on the record and is broken up by a nice scratch-n-match interlude exhibiting some fantastic topical digging. Generally, throughout Local Only Soso makes superb use of the drum-machine and pitched-and-perverted found sound approach. “It Ain’t Easy” is a clinic in guitar-chopping, “Middle Aged White Guy” is as frantically compelling as anything on Dizzee Rascal’s debut, and the kill-someone strings and cannibal kettle drum combo on “Poor People Are Scummy” quirks its way into your head and nests for a season.

Contrasting Soso’s sparse production is producer co-star Maki’s work. On “Old Guys Ready to Rock the Mic,” Maki breaks out a gorgeous 1989 8-bit sparkle bass loop and weds it to a rocky breakbeat. The sampler is set on loop and Epic, along with guest MC Micill Write, raps about rap. While Micill’s delivery and voice are both raspy-slick, Epic steals the show updating “Top Billin” (“Don’t trust anyone over 30 / You’ve just been taxed / Check your paycheck”) and screaming: “You think my gray hair is a joke!” Maki goes from 1989 to 2089 on the futuristic (if you agree with me that Sixtoo and Signify are both from the future) “Blood Money”, showing both a vast amount of versatility and equipment at his disposal.

The album’s real attention-getter is the one-off Muneshine hyper-produced “My Briefcase is a Weapon." The song was spawned when Carroll witnessed a business man punch a homeless person in the mouth outside an arts centre in Edmonton “just because." Muneshine’s beat is polished-on-purpose, with an ironic view to elucidating Epic’s hack at Mr. Management’s shins: “A briefcase a weapon inside my hand / Don’t you know who the fuck I am?” Meanwhile, Epic advises: “Move off the streets to a plush condominium by the beach / Of course that’s gonna mean a commute in the morning." A little preachy, sure, but Carroll’s personality could put an acceptable spin on even the most generic “I love hip hop” rehash.

With promises like “I’ll teach you to collect welfare in two difference provinces,” Epic’s politics are clear-cut, accessible, and as pro-Canadian as Australian girls. While Carroll’s vocals are about as non-traditional as you could imagine, the overall feel of Local Only drips the personal authenticity and studied social awareness that went missing around the same time Flava Flav came out of rehab. This party’s not elitist, and that’s why I’m on the wagon: Epic for Prime Minister in 2004.