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Donít say the Phoenix never did good. About four years ago, I got an email from one jdwalker, saying he was a local rapper, he had a disc out in Germany, and didnít I maybe want to check him out? I told him to send in a disc for me to check out, sure. I got it, put it in, thought it sounded pretty cool.
"Hey Sonya," I yelled across the office, "you heard of this jdwalker guy?"
She says yeah, sheís seen him around at the Stone Coast.
"Get me 850 words on him, then."
Sonya ó aka Sontiago ó goes to meet this lobsterman rapper up at Collucciís for an eggplant parm grinder and the rest is history. The two will be married this summer. Thatís right, if it wasnít for me, thereíd be one less powerhouse underground hip-hop couple in this town. Who needs the Phoenix personals? If youíre looking to date a musician, Iíve got all their phone numbers (Iím kidding ó no, seriously, donít ask for any of their phone numbers ó no, I donít think Dave Gutter even has a phone ó look, forget I said anything).
Anyway, thatís why Iíve got a special appreciation for jdwalkerís spoken-word interlude halfway through the disc: "Have you ever been so consumed by an idea, engulfed in emotion, felt it in your veins, thickening your blood, caught it in your heart stuttering? I think this is what it feels like to know, a moment of clarity, to believe in something other than self, to see two pieces as whole." Ainít that sweet? It oughta make your knees buckle, really.
Jdwalkerís full of heart-warming sentimentality, all of it wrapped up in grimy indie hip hop that wanders everywhere on his latest album from an opening a capella track riffing on "Amazing Grace"Ėstyle American gospel to the mad ramblings of jdwalkerís former (Live Poets, 1993 ó ring any bells?) and current collaborator sole: he of anticon, a new home in Spain, and the label, Six Months, thatís releasing Them Get You, Them Got You. This is largely music you have not heard before, a sound that jdwalker has called up from the depths of his soul, finding a man in local producer Bill Butler (formerly of Black Apple) who could put it to tape.
When I say his stuff is "half-rapped, half-sung," I donít mean that crappy Linkin Park shit. I mean that jdwalker does sometimes sing and does sometime rap, but also has developed an emotive delivery where itís like heís singing the high harmony, but letting the syllables out in staccato bursts, his insides boiling over and the lyrics blowing out the back of his head to relieve the pressure. Itís hard not to get caught up in it, heart-rate pulled faster.
In "Lullaby, Part 2," jdwalker wraps himself in the chorus, "She sang to me a lullaby/ The candle only burns some of the time." Here the delivery boils and burns a distorted indie rock, then ripples and repeats upon itself, all the time jd mumbling the lyrics over and over again to himself, before it becomes just the emoting of syllables, distortion crippling everything else.
God, I love this song.
Thereís enough variation here that any truly curious music fan will find something to love. Jdwalker says his favorite is the albumís first collaboration with K the I???, "Them Get You, Them Got You, Part 1." It opens with some seriously foggy drums, then some indie rock guitar ó the dum-dum, dum-dum (slide up the neck) dum-dum, dum-dum thing. Then comes K the I???, his rap quick and layered: "I hold happiness inside, but I proceeded because I want more."
When jdwalker sings the low part it sounds like an earthy Moby track, something off 13, that low-down mono-bass off-set by a high-up artificial snare that might be a little unnecessary. I want it even more earthy, even more roll-in-the-muck filthy.
"I hate that flat glassy sound that I hear from so many records," says jdwalker in an interview, "and I wanted to keep [the new albumís] failings, keep it sounding spontaneous, musically and lyrically, not muddy to the point where it sounds low-quality. We spent a lot of time trying to keep that sound and make it sonically pleasing."
Lo-fi hip hop: You knew it wasnít too far away. Itís a concept especially hard to grasp because the tracks themselves are heavily layered, a delicate balance between showing whatís behind the curtain in song construction and letting himself flap naked in the wind.
"Know No Company" opens with jdwalker playing acoustic guitar where youíre very conscious of the room; you can hear him shifting in his chair. "I canít think of anything clever to say to the fucking hipsters," he ruminates. "Misery knows no company like its own," runs the chorus slowly, over no real "beats" to speak of, just a plodding bass, a spare electric guitar and a couple layers of the "misery" line repeated over and over.
Then, being the last track on the album, it just finishes everything with a real quick speed-up outro of crashing guitar and drums. Thereís the question of whether heís his own audience here. On an intensely personal album where weíre told "itís okay to laugh at your own jokes," it must be said that jdwalker is clearly sometimes laughing at his own jokes.
But theyíre not at your expense.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jdwalker plays a CD-release party, with Astronautalis and Bleubird, on Friday, April 29th at SPACE, in Portland. Call (207) 828-5600.
Issue Date: April 22 - 28, 2005
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