Fry Cook on Venus

(Fake Four; 2011)

By Chet Betz | 28 March 2011

Fry Cook on Venus bears a scattered aesthetic, a carrying on of the genre eclecticism of 2008’s Rock Paper Scissors. But where that record was long and thus its scope could be called “lush” or “sprawling,” Fry Cook is just over a baker’s dozen in tracks, so the fare feels pretty standard (i.e., unfocused) for rappers. On the flip side the actual content is Noah’s most coherent ever: pretty much everything makes sense, is neat and clear, trades in the streams of pure diction, syntax, and zonked imagery (“Sleepin’ on the premium paramecium / Rest in pieces Reese’s”) from magnum opus Quicksand (2002) for, like, undie rap about girls and shit (“I’m a fan of Sonic Youth, homegirl, and my brain is like a laser”). Coherency is not Noah23’s friend. What’s that smell? Oh, that, yeah, that’s disappointment.

In L.A. I met a homeless man who had a paper pad (complete with illustrations) on which he had written his theories about how we all have parasites inside of us that serve as our sole sources of insight; when we died our parasites, containing now some small part of our souls, lived on forever in some alternate dimension that one could call Heaven or whatever. To me Noah23 was like the fly, funny rapper version of that creepy homeless dude. The concepts were nonsense and yet resonated. God is in the details of a mad mind, I guess, because listening to Quicksand is like listening to foreign tongues being spoken/rapped voraciously over music of the nether spheres.

Listening to Fry Cook on Venus is like listening to Josh Martinez. Asher Roth up a couple brain sizes. MC Paul Barman with a suitable MC voice. It’s never scary with brilliance, pregnant with the spawn of the unfathomable; it’s safe, pleasant, cute. Even a track called “Murder City” sounds somehow amicable, its organs and churlish bass coming off a mellowed homage to Odd Future, corroborated by Sole actually saying the word “swag.” Noah himself offered this insight into his new album by the way he defended himself against our praise amidst Clay’s shrugging at the OF hype machine and elsewhere commenting that his new style is simple and straightforward, not the “fucking challenge” we prescribed.

Well, if there was ever a man to call it, it’s the man himself. Much of Noah’s clever absurdity is gone in favor of a likable goofiness (see, again, Sonic Youth and “brain is a laser”) and sometimes it’s like he’s just spitting out common rap and song tropes, bluntly, as if trying to figure out how to connect with the alien world of human emotion. “No Tomorrow” is an upbeat take on the apocalypse, Noah dropping pearls like “I’m broke but I’m rich in many ways” and quoting “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” wholesale. Worse still, the title track opens up with an echo of “it’s a new dawn, a new day” and then Noah says he could “‘Use Somebody’ whose ‘Sex is on Fire’ / but when she gets too dirty, I gotta clean the fryer.” That’s right, we’ve made the leap from PKD, Burroughs, and H.R. Giger references to Kings of Leon.

There are throwbacks to classic Noah23 style throughout, of course (thank God for “Sea of the Infinite Wave” and “Things to Do”), perhaps none more piercing than the moment on “Old Dog” where Noah23 proclaims that his “paragraph is jet black,” a bittersweet reminder of the good old days (Noah’s discography to date) when that statement was more than true and the dizzying density of Noah23’s lyrics as delivered by his careening flow verged on something experimentally literary, something massive—effusion concentrate, a million pronunciations describing something that can’t be pronounced. But it can’t be said that there aren’t merits to the direction of nigh-pop that started on Rock Paper Scissors, here best represented by the sweetly melodic one-two of “Can’t Stay Mad” and “Nuts.” If this weren’t Noah23 I’d call such examples of song craft, such knack for little hooks like barbs sticking out at the edges of rap, such seamless genre-splicing of indie pop and hip-hop, well, I’d call it “promising.” It’s just that I know what those things are standing in lieu of. They’re a kitten curled up in the footprint of a behemoth.

The motivation behind this new, more accessible, more huggable Noah is touched upon at various times on Fry Cook on Venus; he struggles to make it in the industry, he wants to share some sunshine, and on a deeper level rather beautifully intimated by opener “What It Is,” Noah just wants to be understood. All very sensible desires, of course, and I’ll try not to fault him for them, but let me just say this and let me say it right to you, Noah, listener to artist: I felt like I understood and loved you best when I couldn’t understand you, and you knew that, and I knew that, and it was something we both accepted and embraced. Because, really, what’s more deeply understood than that feeling that you are standing in the eye of an epic storm and around you whirls a universe of information and words and language and rap and confusion and culture and art and music and rap and God and nothingness and bourgeois cyborgs and rap? Bring back the nonsense, Noah, my parasite needs you.