Label: Asthmatic Kitty
On Ropechain, Grampall Jookabox (aka David Adamson) unleashes a miasma of styles to create a swampy soup of Aesop Rock style musings, tic-ridden future angst, faux hip-hop beats that meet the tendrils of the Deep South and a sardonic sense of humor to create what must be one of the year’s most bizarre releases. On this sophomore effort, Indianapolis native Adamson riffs on such disparate topics from pregnancy to Michael Jackson to capitalize on a vichyssoise of styles running the gamut from tribal drumming to straight-up funk.
The story goes that Adamson wrote and recorded Ropechain over the course of one week. Though common sense tells an artist to allow his creation time to gestate and grow, the urgency and roughness that define many of the tracks here is both refreshing and nerve-wracking. The album immediately sinks in its addictive hooks with “Black Girls,” a jaunty pastiche of high-pitched female vocals, big, fuzzy beats textured with Adamson’s rapping about “black girls building skyscrapers with their brains.” It is a big, rich song which may or may not be a hymn to black chicks, but it sets the stage for the album with its combination of absurdist lyrics and sonic surrealism.
Post-millennial anxiety is nothing new in music, but Adamson touches upon themes that are age-old, tried and true. On “The Girl Ain’t Preggers,” an LCD Soundsystem bass line meets growly Tom Waits percussion as Adamson asks, “Don’t it make you feel good when the girl ain’t preggers?” But soon Adamson is extolling the virtues of the excitement of a newborn; it’s that flip-flop of emotion that clinches the song. Adamson is bright enough to move beyond the tropes of despair at an unwanted pregnancy to set up the juxtaposition of fear and excitement that comes with impending fatherhood.
On many of the tracks, Adamson sounds as if he’s about to come unhinged and who is a better subject on mental stability than Michael Jackson? On “I Will Save Young Michael,” one of the albums only placid numbers, Adamson tries to convince the King of Pop not to lose his mind and keep on creating great music over an infectious slow groove and a chorus of mournful howls. For anyone who misses the genius behind “Billie Jean” and “Thriller,” you will identify with this elegy.
But Ropechain is definitely not a mellow affair and nothing rocks harder than “You Will Love My Boom.” Adamson gets all lovesick and crazed amid exploding guitars as he “took my shrooms and then proposed to you because I love you love you.” Though it shares the same stricken sentiment as “Every Breath You Take,” the freakout beat and booming drums disallows Adamson to exhibit the same quiet menace as Sting’s protagonist. On “Old Earth, Wash My Beat,” the percussion is once again the star, jangling behind a hypnotic bass and call and response vocals.
Nailing down Ropechain is an elusive task. A tenuous mixture of humor and sheer terror fills out its swift 45 minutes of sonic experimentation and innovation. It is impossible to assign this music a genre. It could be rock, it could be hip-hop, it could be soul. Sometimes evading definition is the best thing and allowing Adamson’s wit and fears to consume us makes Ropechain one of the most breathtaking musical rides of 2008.
by David Harris