Pre Future Post Modern Love Songs: AKA Alien Booty Bass is the dopamine-inducing new album from OC Notes that turns the human auditory cortex into the swirling speaker on the interior of a Leslie cabinet.
Dave Segal tried to talk me out of listening it at first. When I overheard him say enthusiatically, “It’s amazing” to Charles Mudede, I interrupted, “Where did you get it?”. “Uh,” Dave croaked. I answered for him: “From his publicist,” then impatiently demanded “let me have it”. “Yeah,” Dave croaked. “I can’t really share it right now” was his dutiful response. “C’mon," I said, "if you let me listen to it, I’ll write about it.” “Deal,” Dave chuckled. “I’ll send it to you.”
Minutes later I had downloaded it and was listening in my headphones and scrolling through the album art (surrealist cover art by Radjaw with OC Notes handwritten liner notes, “comic book” paintings that range from gestural, digitally painted figures, to abstract-expressionist, color-field works that deserve a write-up of their own). I chuckled a bit at the first track’s title: “A Short Piece On Wasting Time,” a long song title for the message it sends (get your stuff together, I can’t wait around for you), which I later realized was a foreshadowing device. The relatively safe second track “Bayside Funk” picks up where his recent release What’s Your Sign? leaves off, moving along at a pretty good hiphop/house clip, full of cloud-rap bass, discreet reverberation, and indulgent organ that separate OC Notes from other producers in that he issues compositions rather than tapes of beats with a potential for vocal overdubs.
Something completely unexpected happened to me around track three, though, during the electronic hard bop of “Do The Runna Bounce.” My throat tightened, tears began to well up behind my eyes. The grinding organ bass line beat down into the middle of my chest while the synth, hi-hat, and snare claps, and the increasing level of instruments and samples filling the track fought with my mind for attention. I felt strong emotions: excitement, fear, anger, happiness. I went through a mental checklist: Have I eaten today? Yes. (a Chachi’s Favorite sandwich at Honeyhole, thank you). Angry? Nah, today was pretty good, the Hill was chillin’, and Emily Nokes offered me a hotdog hat for Halloween. Lonely? Nope. I got the whole city to throw my arms around. Tired? Maybe, but my fuckin’ heart is racing with the anticipation that comes just before the point of no return with psychoactive drugs, a while after swallowing, when your mind begins to lose touch with your physical body, shortly before the “fuck, I’m high” realization. The panic-attack fear of losing control continued like this for what seemed to be hours; all the way through the funk-laden conga beat of “Wave Music” (which actually came a couple minutes later) I held onto my desk and tried to deal with my wavering emotions. Vocal overlays ranging from falsetto to practically ornithological washed over me in waves. Vibrato guitar sentiments churned up on the shore of reality; I felt like I was being swept out to sea.
By “Red Alert Song,” I felt like my brain was being both menaced and shrouded in all the love music had to give. Like a spirit guide, I clung to the voice under the beat that schizophrenically converses “they’ll try to put you in boxes.” Driven electric guitar crashed deeper into my brain making the sound that the lights reflected off wet city streets at night would make if they made one at all. At least the voice is with me, I thought, but whose voice is it I wondered (sounds like Street Sounds' Larry Mizell Jr.)? At least I’ve got someone to talk to while I’m in here, I thought. I’m having fun, I am. It’s good. This is fun (right?).
Reality became fluid. I’m pretty sure Dave talked to me. I gave him thumbs up. Everyone left the office. The music stopped, and I came to staring at the corner of my computer screen. 5:30 PM / 10/17/12. I got up to leave. Kelly O asked me if I was coming in on Wednesday. “Uh, yeah.” I replied, unsure what we were talking about.
I walked out into the city and felt privileged and lonely all at once. I had heard something I needed to share, but there was no way I could. I wished the 600,000 other people in the city could hear what I’d heard. Not just the album, but the sounds on it for which there are no words.
I went home, made love, ate some more, giggled a lot for no reason, slept a deep sleep, and woke happy. Today has been different. I fucking hate the fall, and all the holidays for that matter, but I now have a feeling things might be OK this year. I thought for sure that on my morning commute I might have a different reaction to the album. This time, around track four, the feeling came back; that tightness in my throat, tears in my eyes, a heaviness to match the dissonant bass undertones that I’m beginning to suspect is my inability to deal with OC Notes' surrealist compositions on Pre Future Post Modern Love Songs.
Just as the album begins to pull out of its free-fall trip with the more user-friendly (sort of) “Hard For Me” —a breakbeat and soul-sampling, kick/snare minimalist piece— and “Morgan Free & ODB” (the closest thing we get to a modern hiphop track here), which sees OC rapping “your homegirl said I look like ODB, and your other homegirl said I look like Morgan Free…man,” the album peaks on the melted dubstep, staccato-stringed, soul track “Kitty Kat.” It then rolls seamlessly into my personal favorite “I’m Broke Beat #3,” a jerky bossa-nova number that builds into an overflowing vat of acid jazz. It’s here that OC Notes transcends the comparisons people make to Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def), and Cody ChesnuTT and pushes further into the potential of music, like a modern Sun Ra. I’d read a statement from OC Notes earlier this year that said he would be "..droppin a solo record this year that's gonna change minds". I’ve been waiting since then, and while I enjoyed Emerald City Sequence, I found myself too impatient for Moldavite, then motivated by What’s Your Sign? (that song "Heavy House" is the jam) but I did not expect this: densely layered live and synthesized instrumentation in modal sentences, a visceral experience, and an album that makes even experimental hiphop gems like Common’s Electric Circus seem like child’s play.
At “Thuggery,” the synthesizer climbs a helical coil around dramatic chopped and screwed vocals then drops off abruptly into the comedown. OC Notes is there to greet you at the last part of the journey on “The Science” with his playful, poetic vocals; there are horns and bells somewhere in there, rising above that dissonant heady drone. “Why Do Birds” is a romantic, metaphysical ballad that skims along just above modern musical ground before landing right back where you started at "A.S.P.O.W.T.," a lights and laser beams remix of the first track that set you free.
After the last two days, I can say with certainty I have heard music that affects cognition, whose structure defies time. OC Notes' solo album has definitely changed my mind.