Friday, October 28, 2016

The Long, Long Awaited Return of Written On Your Psyche

Remember a couple years ago when I got super excited to discover a terrific, contemporary NJ hip-hop record but a group I'd never heard of at a record sale?  Well, that group was Written On Your Psyche, and while I discovered it in 2011, it had actually come out in 2005; and that was their newest record.  Admittedly, there had been a couple of solo mix-CDs and mp3-only stuff in the meantime, but that's still eleven years since their last official release.  You couldn't blame a fan for feeling discouraged.  But they're back!  With vinyl!

If you remember in my first Written video, I talked about how after going through their earlier material, I found that they had distinct musical phases.  Instrumentally, at least, first album Written On Your Psyche didn't sound like second album Written On Your Psyche.  And yep, this is another new phase with an all new sound.  Although if you heard their online-only album Superman Is Dead, that does go some way towards bridging the gap.  But still, this sounds completely different from Grounded, I'd say largely because they're not working with the incredible producer they had at that time, Saheeb.  So really, they've got a tall mountain to climb to live up to those days.

And do they pull it off?  I'd say pretty successfully, yes.  It's not 100% equal to their classic "In Control" 12".  But this time, handling all their own production, they've come up with a fresh sound for themselves that really clicks.  There's a cool consistency to this EP that not only says these songs belong together, but are also distinct from their previous records.  It's got a very atmospheric (the record opens with ambient sounds, for God's sake) intellectually calm kind of vibe, with a lot of moody synths.  Like something the BBC would score an 80s sci-fi miniseries with, plus boom-bap drums.

If you're not that familiar, Written is two guys, Poet Substratum and Bolical Jenkins.  I could be mistaken, but it feels to me like Poet's really taken the lead in conceiving the songs here.  My favorite track is the opener, "Mystery," which takes the basic battle/ rapping about rapping core to new, metaphysical heights, using wild space and time imagery to push the limits of our reality.  This really is as good as the Grounded material, just in a different way.  "Only God Knows" has a great sound, and "Star Speech" is some fun, crazy new age rap shit.  The title track is actually my least favorite song, though it's got a great hook ("it's that rhyme by the candle, but the mountain breeze don't blow it out, though"), and I can see why it became the thematic link for the full EP.

Now, this is 2016, so of course there is a digital counterpart to this EP that you can download from bandcamp.  But apart from coming in an attractive picture cover, the limited (only 250 copies) wax release also has an exclusive vinyl-only bonus track called "F.I.N.E."  You can hear immediately why it's a bonus track, separate from the body of the EP.  Instrumentally it's less ethereal, and lyrically it's, uh, even further in that direction.  It's sort of like an update of Kool G Rap's "Truly Yours."  Yeah, Kool G Rap already did an update of "Truly Yours" with Pete Rock, but that was for the 90s, and this one speaks to 2016 audiences, with updated lyrics like, "The chick was bad, but she was crazy, too. I'd find her home crying about every day or two. Depressed as Hell, paranoid as shit; but while I'm deep inside the pussy I ignore the shit.  Can't ignore those hips, and yeah she has prescriptions for this; of course daddy issues."  The titular acronym stands for "Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional."  it's distractingly immature, but it works as an upbeat closer - a sort of undercutting antidote to a much more serious work - though I wouldn't want a whole album of "F.I.N.E."s.

So if you're a fan, you'll definitely want to score the wax while you can.  And it does also come with a download card for a convenient digital copy.  And if you're a more serious fan, you might also want to look into Psyche Visuals, a slim poetry book by Substratum collecting verses from a bunch of his past songs.  Each page has lyrics to one of his past songs (some unreleased solo stuff, and a few from Superman Is Dead), and the reverse has a nice, if brief, paragraph explaining each song.  He's also collected all of the songs into a free compilation on his bandcamp so you can listen along to the book.  Pretty classy, but I'd say that's more for the die-hard fans.  For more casual listeners, I just recommend the Mountain Breeze record, which you can cop here.

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