Sanddollars EP

(Anticon; 2005)

By Dr. Newell | 22 October 2007

Schizophrenic Tenant Medical Clinic
(Progressive Rapper Psychiatry Ward)
Medical Report

Patient: T. (S.) Holland
DOB: September 25, 1977
Date(s) Seen: May 24, 2005
Current Diagnosis: None
Prognosis: Good; after some exhibited symptoms of neuroses and possible aggression disorder Mr. Holland has leveled out and appears to be progressing with a positive attitude. Personality still possibly volatile pending critical reaction to his “record” label’s most recent release.

Dear Dr. Spork,

Thank you for referring this pleasant, yet somewhat agitated, 27 year old young man to me for assessment. I have recently reviewed Mr. Holland’s medical records from his various visits at numerous medical clinics in Oakland area, and I have recently (May 24 of this year) met with and examined Mr. Holland myself. With respect, I feel that I should disregard all diagnoses and opinions heretofore, as I find that Mr. Holland has been the victim of no small amount of misunderstanding, misapprehension, neglect, and inattentiveness on the part of the numerous individual practitioners of our profession on which he has attended in the months previous to this present visitation.

I begin with a recount of Mr. Holland’s unfortunate continued misdiagnoses. The records in Mr. Holland’s file are conflicting to the point of embarrassment. This has had a serious adverse affect on Mr. Holland’s personality and attitude, and has subsequently unduly jeopardized his psychological well-being. I list herein certain examples:

Pursuant to his initial visitation at the Alternative Press Medical Clinic with complaints of insecurities regarding his Live From Rome project, the medical records from the clinic state: “the backing tracks here … are probably better than those on any of Sole’s previous albums.” Apparently, then, Mr. Holland’s concerns about his health were deemed groundless and perhaps, at worst, suggestive of a small hypochondria.

Seeking a second opinion, Mr. Holland attended at Cokemachineglow Mental Health Centre where Dr. Betz rendered the following diagnosis: “Where Live From Rome really falls off is the production.” This is in direct contrast to the above opinion from the Alternative Press Clinic.

Unsatisfied with such polarization, Mr. Holland attended at Popmatters Psychology Services for a third opinion. In an affront to both of the prior, yet conflicting, diagnoses, PPS concluded bluntly: “No, the problem here isn’t the production. It’s Sole himself.” The use of such blaming, negative language is just barely excusable given the PPS report’s encouraging closing remarks: “Sole … doesn't think he needs [to] rhyme to be a respectable MC, and that's fine.” Mr. Holland was thus discharged, having been told that his production was fine, but that he himself was the problem, yet, at the same time, the fact that he did/does not ‘rhyme’ is “acceptable”.

Understandably confused, Mr. Holland was forced to seek a fourth opinion. Once again our profession failed to give a satisfactory diagnosis. Worse, almost immediately after being told by Popmatters that it is “fine” that he chooses not to rhyme, the practitioners at Stylus Hospital recommended that Mr. Holland’s problems could be solved by following this (somewhat unprofessional) recommendation: “Dude! Rhyme!”

This was most unfortunate. The neglect suffered by Mr. Holland should have been clear to him at this point. However, in his weakened state, Mr. Holland chose not to lodge a complaint to the Integrated Indie Review Regulatory Commission (Metacritic LLP), but instead applied to Pitchfork State Health Authority for an holistic assessment. PSH’s conclusions supported the initial conclusion of the Alternative Press Clinic while incorporating portions of the Popmatters diagnosis and, additionally, offering brief supporting evidence. It stated succinctly that: “Sole squanders several of Odd Nosdam's and Alias' polished beats by overstating his case…"Predictions" is one example”. Their conclusion, then, was that the onus was on Mr. Holland himself to stop wasting his available resources and to get himself back on track.

Sadly, this opinion must also be seen as patently defective. The specimen assessed (the afore-mentioned “Predictions”), actually grew from a Controller 7 origin and had nothing to do with Odd Nosdam, nor Alias, and therefore the entire opinion is inherently flawed. In this regard, the Pitchfork opinion is itself the most striking example of the repeated neglect suffered by Mr. Holland in his simple search for a resolution of his recording insecurities and anxieties. If we cannot correctly ascertain Mr. Holland’s symptomology, how are we to assist him? Obviously a disservice of no small import has been committed against Mr. Holland in his psychiatric treatment thus far.

The result of these (at minimum) five conflicting diagnoses has left Mr. Holland in a battered state. Upon his visitation with me of May 24, Mr. Holland, obviously having relived his unfortunate experiences numerous times in his imagination, exhibited increasingly serious signs of neuroses and anxiety. The record shows that, among other inappropriate comments, Mr. Holland feels that it is not only himself, but also his group of associates, that have suffered neglectful, dismissive treatment at the hands of attending medical professionals. I do not believe that this is a symptom of any paranoia, but it may be exemplary of a certain post-traumatic stress disorder. The transcript from our taped visitation reveals further evidence supporting my concerns about Mr. Holland’s condition. Please see immediately below (capitalizations indicate periods during which Mr. Holland raised his voice beyond appropriate conversational levels):

TH: DOC! (sorry). It’s not just me they’re after, swear to Jah. They all hate Dosh, too. I mean at Pitchfork they said “Martin Dosh's solo debut is so personal that I feel like I know the guy from just one listen.” Which, to me, I mean, to me that shows that Dosh is really distinctive in his sound right? But then Dr. P. Hepburn at Cockmunchinglow says he’s ripping off Prefuse 73. DOC! (sorry). Ok. Doc. I’m not paranoid. I know I’m not paranoid. BUT THEY’RE TRYING TO SCREW US. Sorry. But I know it. I just know, you know? I know you know. Oreos. Rhyming SUCKS. Sorry.

TH: Dosh freaked out at that Hepburn thing. He said a lot of eff-words on the Restiform board.

TH: WHAT’S UP WITH THAT SQUANDERING RESOURCES COMMENT. I mean no one shits on 20th Century Fox for casting Jessica Alba as an invisible woman.

TH: Some guy at Playlouder said 13 & God sounded like Arcade Fire. Hold on, I’ll get it for you, I print all these things off and keep them in my fanny pack…(ruffling) YES! OK HERE IT IS (sorry): ‘This is Anticon at their most approachable and reflective and should be filed on your shelf somewhere near Dosh, Boards of Canada and Arcade Fire.’ Who the fuck is Dosh anyway? Sounds like laundry detergent.

TH: At the Pitchfork State Health Authority they criticize Dose for making The No Music (speaking in a Homer Simpson voice)“a horribly pointless and boring album that will only satisfy those who equate progress with soulless beats and abstract mic theatrics”; and then say, “You don’t need to be versed in Eliot and you don’t have to understand Stravinsky … What you do need is … to keep that shit real.” BUT THEN THEY GO AND RATE DOSE’S POETRY BOOK HIGHER THAN ANY OTHER RELEASE WE PUT OUT EVER UP TO THAT POINT. Sorry. And they say he raises the bar for musicians attempting verse. I don’t get it, Doc. How can we keep them happy, doc, how?

TH: My last problem is how Anticon, my label, my label of honest musicians making honest music, my label that has validated progression and outside-the-box creativity in a genre that is always strutting a slippery slope of stagnation, gets panned, bashed, and lambasted by you people for being too weird, incomprehensible, soulless, abstract, sarcastic, meta, cynical, etcetera, and then we go and make an indie-pop-rock record that is as lyrically weird and pregnant as anything else we’ve done and … (starts to sob) … and just because … (heaves) ... just because it has polished production and doesn’t use a waffle toaster as a musical instrument … (beats chest) … the State Authority says we’re now … I …they say we’re “Much too safe." What does this mean? What do we do, what do I do … I … Do you have any peach soda?

That concludes the relevant portions of the records of my visitation with Mr. Holland. I later received a letter from Mr. Holland containing a gift certificate for Ikea and a compact disc. There was also a letter which explained that the “too safe” album referred to in the above transcriptions of my May 24 visitation with Mr. Holland was Why?’s Sanddollars EP, an eight-song venture which was indeed recorded for Mr. Holland’s ‘Anticon’ label. Furthermore, this was the compact disc enclosed in the envelope with the Ikea gift certificate.

I played this compact disc, as I have all other Anticon releases in preparation for my attendance on Mr. Holland. I listened to it, twice, all the way through both times. I felt it was the least I could do for Mr. Holland, who has been so summarily dismissed, misdiagnosed, and neglected by our collective professionals over the previous months.

What I found were songs that were not wholly unlike those I hear on my television set when my daughter is watching The O.C. These songs are very digitally-clear and crisp. They are not muddied with bizarre, choppy drum patterns and faint, repetitive ‘rap beats’ that appear on, say, well, any of the more ‘rap’ albums my daughter plays in the Escalade on her way to soccer practice. These songs, instead, have many movements. They do not follow linear progressions, but are not, pardon the misplaced term, “schizophrenic." This is, simply, well-orchestrated, semi-complex ‘alternative’ pop music.

These songs are all coherently-arranged, positive, played in major keys, very easy to listen to and enjoyable on their surface. Good music for my morning jog, containing some very impressive live-playing and distinct, inventive arrangements. As far as I can tell, this is not in the least indicative of any true psychological disturbance or disorder in the work’s creator. Permit me to indulge myself, but when I was in Medical School, working on my specialization, I listened to a band called Built to Spill. This album somehow reminded me of that band, at least in its rambunctious, energetic spirit. But perhaps somewhat renewed, a little more relaxed, and taking advantage of new musical technologies. Perhaps Built to Spill for the Postal Service set (when you have been subjected to The O.C. as much as I have, this stuff becomes a second vernacular).

One element was wholly unique to me, however: the words. Unlike the snarky, aggressive politics of Mr. Holland’s music, or the complete outlandishness of Mr. A. Drucker, Why? (hereinafter “Mr. Wolf," for the sake of professionalism) says many things that don’t initially appear to make sense, or perhaps seem to document nothing more than mundane daily thoughts. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned from reviewing Mr. Holland’s medical records, it’s that we must endeavour to scratch deeper than the surface when constructing our diagnoses. Mr. Wolf asks telling, insecure, self-reflective questions: “Am I sick to think I look best under fluorescent light…or in the cramped-corpse light-blue of an airplane bathroom?” But then makes confident statements, such as, “These are selfish times / I got shellfish dimes / and sanddollars." This type of behaviour is no more bizarre or outlandish than the spectrum of normal, random human insecurity experienced on any given day by any given person. It’s just seldom articulated this way.

To get particular, however, what does the above lyric mean? I researched certain hip hop parlance before meeting with Mr. Holland, and I think Mr. Wolf is trying to say that his “shellfish dimes” are “crabs," meaning deceitful, perhaps ‘gold-digging’ female companions (“dime” meaning “attractive female”). In this context, the term “Sanddollars” therefore indicates quite plainly that his money falls through his fingers as a result of his poor choice of female companion. I offer the caveat that this is pure speculation on my part, and Mr. Wolf could simply be talking about selling crustaceans at a fisherman’s market and I would not know the difference.

But, I think therein lies the key. Perhaps in our attempts to pigeonhole, pin-down, and ‘diagnose’ the ‘problems’ with Mr. Holland and his associates, we are actually putting our own prejudices to the forefront, and revealing more about our own presuppositions than any infirmity that might lie with their side. It does seem that every time a member of their collective surfaces with a new, unexpected symptom, we have assessed that symptom based solely on our perception of their past pathologies, shocked and dismissive because we did not get what we expected. Reviewing the medical records one last time, I appeal to a grain of wisdom noted in the margin of Dr. Betz’ (of Cokemachineglow Mental Health Centre) reports: “The music’s effort to push, that itself was the message.” I think we should, from this point forward, keep this possibility in mind when dealing with this particular group of individuals. In a certain context, even the ‘same old thing’ is not necessarily just that.

A practice note will surely circulate in the days to come.

Yours Faithfully,