Whether we’re sitting down with a good book, flipping through our latest stack of comics, spraining our thumbs during all-night video game sessions, or doodling in a sketchbook, The Pure Mood loves to have a record spinning in the background of our lives. Every week, we’ll spotlight a new album that demands listening.
On the surface, k. flay is not the kind of artist I’d normally be interested in – I’ve seen websites pitch her as ‘the Lena Dunham of rap’, and if there’s one thing I think we’ve all got locked down in 2013, it’s self-deprecating white girls. It’s always a treat to be that catastrophically wrong about something – k. flay is an incredible musician and performer, and I’ve been a huge fan for years. Her newest EP, WHAT IF IT IS, has been released today, and it stands along with I STOPPED CARING IN ’96 as the best thing she’s ever done.
I didn’t mean to come across as obnoxiously caustic in the opening of this review, but I really do think that the success of sensitive and anxious over-privileged twenty somethings in comedy mixed with the very unique and real complexities of modern life have resulted in a numbing drone of sameness across many different forms of media. I actually think a lot of that stuff is really well done, but there’s only so much ‘whoops i can’t tie my shoes i’m really wasting this scholarship’ I can take before the joke seems a little played out. k.flay explores similar thematic concerns with a gravity and sincerity that makes subject matter identical to what I’m deriding actually have emotional impact.
For example, from the mesmorising opening track ‘Rawks’ – “No one’s really watching still I sense that I’ve been messing up / human but day by day I’m feeling like I’m less of one / sent all my best friends presents yet I’m disappointing everyone” – that’s anxiety that has a human edge, that has the tremor of actual experience behind it. Everybody feels pressure and anxiety and fear and loneliness, but feeling those things doesn’t necessarily give one the ability to express them to others (I know I can’t) – social media like twitter and tumblr give us the ability to express ourselves, but it also turns a lot of people into experts on failure, even if they’re really only feeling the pressure we’re all feeling. k.flay shows real introspection and depth in ‘Rawks’ by turning personal thoughts into universal experience, a skill only great artists have.
Take another line from the same track – “Thinking I’m in love so my irises been twinkling / but he don’t feel the same, guess I’m permanently single then” – okay, sure, ‘irises been twinkling’ is a bit of a stretch, but the contrast of apathy and cartoonish theatrical commitment in the shrugged off ‘guess i’m permanently single, then’ sums up a lot of the most fascinating things about current social trends in dating. Due to the influence of writers and podcasters like Dan Savage (and, of course, massive societal change beginning in the ’60s) many young people wish to see a future where monogamy is one of many choices, and not the norm. Except old habits die hard, and our ingrained desire to possess isn’t an easy thing to shake – so what to do but snub the idea of romantic love like a moody child? It’s a hilarious and moving lyric because it speaks not only to the juvenile mindset that causes so much of the aforementioned self-deprecation of most twenty somethings, but also underlines the hopelessness and fear many of us do feel about the future.
That’s barely scratching the surface of the humour found in WHAT IF IT IS – though the gags land most effectively the darker they get. There is a lot of playful whimsy to be had – “Fuck a lemon yeah I’m sucking on a glowstick/ only trust a smile about as far as I can throw it” is genuinely hilarious – but the funny rhymes that stick out most to me are the ones both funny and revealing. “Told a joke ’cause my life’s one too” is the kind of ingenious wordplay and dark comedy that had me in hysterics. As much as I’m abusing the word, WHAT IF IT IS isn’t a dark record by any means – but it’d be a lie to claim the songs don’t have a sinister bite to them. It’s funny lyrics with headbanging beats, sure, but there’s also a lot of honesty and pain.
I’m going a little crazy on the lyrics – k. flay is one of my favourite hip hop lyricists – but WHAT IF IT IS also sounds great. ‘Rawks’ really is the stand out track, starting with an eerie reverberating hollow drone that transitions seamlessly into a heavy and catchy beat. That’s one of the best things about any k. flay record – her music can be enjoyed on a lot of different levels by many different kinds of music fans. The killer production value can be appreciated by hardcore music geeks, the beats are perfect for fans of house music, hip-hop fans can enjoy the amazing rapping skill, and angsty white boys like me can relate to lyrics about anxiety medication.
WHAT IF IT IS is a great collection of songs – admittedly, ‘Starfvcker’ is about as obvious as the title suggests, but otherwise k. flay never takes a misstep. Currently available through RCA, available on iTunes to download and streaming on soundcloud, now is your chance to listen to a dual degree carrying rapper set to break out in a huge way any day now. k. flay also plays the Commodore here in Vancouver on September 3rd, and I hope to see you there.