Jupiter Sajitarius

(2nd Rec; 2004)

By Chet Betz | 8 November 2007

Noah23’s Quicksand (2002) is one of my favorite hip-hop albums of the new millennium. I’m serious. It says right there in my list for the Top 60 Albums of the ‘00s. See? Number 18. Burroughsian/Flash Gordian free-association imagery delivered with a rapid, passionate spit over playful jungle beats makes me mister happy boy. What can I do when I hear “Imhotep,” how can I resist dark string swells laced under a shifting drum break and an absurd syllable barrage of sci-fi pulp pop culture that’s summed up so emphatically with Noah’s “imperfections is what makes me sexy”? That’s the $1000 Jeopardy answer to “Chet’s G-spot.”

So then what’s the straight answer to the following question: how did I not know about Jupiter Sajitarius, Noah’s third full-length, until now? It dropped in November of last year. I’ve lost three or four months of large potential increase to my music listening joy. Vocal chords warbled hoarse, I trill out a girly coo every time Noah switches up the flow or geeks the references, but I fear that I’m the only one listening at this point.

That’s not right, and the proof of the wrong rests with the album itself. With an Albini-era guitar riff by Chevelle, I’ll lift my finger and croon “Point number one.” Of the 2005 French hip-hop album Batards Sensibles by TTC, fellow CMG scribe Aaron Newell insists that its great contextual value lies in its nigh satirical highlighting of a certain “aspect of hip-hop culture (shit words) by being incomprehensible lyrically but astounding stylistically.” Noah23 could be accusingly praised of the same subversive agenda, but since he raps in English, I can at least pretend to make some sort of subconscious sense of his exotic syllable salad, all diced-up sea anemones and peacock feather garnish with a Vulcan chef’s otherworldly logic for culinary aesthetic. However, his cool hubbub also serves itself dripping in the adhesive dressing of emotional investment, and as this metaphor winds down into complete absurdity, Noah winds his words up to max capacity, his flow ascending the beat like an anaconda on speed weaving its way up through the banister of a spiral staircase. I’ll make appropriate that ridiculous simile by quoting its subject: “Palace of smashed glass / Hall of mirrors / Three-dimensional syntax / Jazzy veneer.”

Noah’s poetry mosaics fragment after fragment of nothing but vague images like “eyes of a pirate” and “electric eels” and snips of lit like “Beeblebrox” and “mugwumps.” These shards appear and reappear in each song, and the tone helps give the sense that Noah’s intently searching for something, that he’ll travel through space and time and the maze of his own mind to find it; his recordings log a high-brow existential adventure with a cheeky Buck Rogers sense of fun. Listening to Jupiter Sajitarius might be the equivalent of listening to a stream-of-consciousness audio book by Kilgore Trout.

If only audio books were immaculately rapped, though, and came with beats the like of these. Orphan, Noah23’s best man on Quicksand, does much of the work here and hits upon one of his finest with the crisp, snapping drums and shimmering key notes of “Quicksilver,” somehow making a line like “there’s a party going on over hurrr” compelling. “Nova Toast” rides a three-step descending guitar line for all its worth until scratches and string hits and woodwinds take over and Noah’s listlessly repeating, “Cut the strings off the marionette / and tie them around your finger to never forget.” While these chill cuts clearly excel, the production does not sacrifice too much of its quality for variety; the name of hip-hop adroitly reinvents R&B on “Photo Soul Decay,” reggae-ska on “Scream,” and honky-tonk on “Camera Shy.” On “Turtle Bear” Noah spits a moment of clarity: “My work is too diverse, and I know it / But at least I have the courage to step up and record it.”

A smorgasboard of genres, tempos, and styles explored (with plenty of sing-song lines recalling Josh Martinez), Noah arrives with the sixteenth track upon his concluding statement, “Petit Mort.” Over rolling piano and mourning strings supplied by up-and-comer Varick Pyr (producer of “Bridle” for Sage Francis), Noah introduces the song in multi-tracked harmony: “All the spades upside down / all the spades upside down.” Then he brings a hook that plays upon his own identity, his name: “From the dove / to the fig leaf / to the rainbow / to the sunshine / I don’t wanna live forever, leave it for the reptilian bloodline.” Noah finishes his second verse with the kind of wincing wink that few rappers pull off as well as he: “You know that wild horses couldn’t… hush / Forget compliments now I’m ice-fishing for lust / It’s all about the scarlet toe-nail polish / All about the scarlet toe-nail polish / All about the scarlet toe-nail polish…”

It’s powerfully expressive babbling. The weaknesses of Jupiter Sajitarius feel intertwined with its strengths, incoherency with ambiguity, inconsistency with eclecticism. Style does such a fine job of clothing the substance that it’s hard to tell whether the content’s weighty or emaciated. Noah’s passion goes a long way towards selling the piece, but it lacks the novelty and tour-de-force impact that made Quicksand such a startling listen. Nonetheless, this is a remarkably worthy follow-up, one that I wish I had been spreading the gospel on months ago. Jupiter Sajitarius demands listening, and if just a wee bit more of that happens due to this review, then smack me silly and call me mister happy boy.