Bells & Whistles, Vol. 12: Time for spelunking!

The most infrequent column returns with a real deal posse cut. First-time contributor Chia-Tien Nicole Chen examines R.A.P. Ferreira‘s blues turn, Millan Verma wrote some kind of short story, KPR is still lost in the abyss after that corecore piece and I almost fell into a hole. – Mano Sundaresan

R.A.P. Ferreira speaks from the chest

Rory Ferreira has no fewer than 14 aliases. He’s Black Orpheus, Him Who Has the Filthy Fits, Brother of the Wind—though he’s best known for the indie rap he’s released under the monikers Milo, Scallops Hotel, and as of 2020, his birth name Rory Allen Philip Ferreira, which he shortens to a felicitous R.A.P. Ferreira. On his spring 2022 tour, his audience also caught a glimpse of the bluesman Crow Billiken, strumming loosely on a resonator guitar as he sang “Catfish Blues” to the steady beat generated by his right loafer. 

Ferreira seems to have shed the persona that defined his early work as Milo, a lone philosopher who found solace in his thought cave. “And the stalactites in the back of my mind / When suffering was normalized, I / Flourished in the lag time,” he rapped in his 2017 song, “sorcerer.” “For a long time, I was bringing like … front brain,” he told fellow indie rap veteran Open Mike Eagle in October. “Nowadays I’m bringing the shit that’s from my chest, that’s in me, it’s my rhythm, it’s funky, it’s weird. Blues have really set me free from that.” 

5 to the Eye with Stars is the first rap record Ferreira’s released since he declared himself a bluesman. It feels like the next step in an unfurling that began with Purple Moonlight Pages, Ferreira’s 2020 debut album under his birth name, which shifted away from the coiling ruminations of his earlier work for a looser, more joyous sound. In “LAUNDRY” on that album, he pushed outward, pleasuring in the mundane with a playful, expressive flow: “I’m just hummin’ in the kitchen, my son listenin’ / He stare with them wide ol’ eyes.” Such tactile warmth continues to radiate through 5 to the Eye with Stars. In “consolation,” Ferreira borrows from Gabrielle Octavia Rucker’s poem, “Butter Sunday,” a vignette of a home kitchen, wherein against the persistent wear of ancestral pain, consolation is found in the “somber fun” of homemade applesauce and the company of kin. Joe Nora’s soft production evokes the moments between sleep and wakefulness, of rousing to rustle and clinks from the kitchen, of a loved one making you breakfast. “Intuit, breathe, what you feel is what you believe,” Ferreira intones, before slipping into soft song over shimmering keys: “I know what it means to be.”

The existential current of Ferreira’s old work endures, although it looks a little different here. In “mythsysizer instinct,” Ferreira pays homage to the late hip hop giants J Dilla and MF DOOM, contemplating the weight of their shared calling: “You know, rappin’ get people killed.” But rather than staring into the void alone, Ferreira has companions. “My sadness a hound dog and he creep beside me,” he utters in unison with his old friend and frequent collaborator Hemlock Ernst, over the organic, fuzzy beats of his long-time producer Kenny Segal. These affinities shade his familiar confidence with a new brightness: “I alone am the honored one on this plane of existence,” he says on “lampião’s flow,” but “Gratitude the only attitude you can get from me / My son laugh sound like a symphony.” The tenth album of his career, 5 to the Eye with Stars shows Ferreira at his most intuitive and free yet – a feat for a rapper known for his steadfast self-possession. – Chia-Tien Nicole Chen

Enter the void: Xaviersobased

Xaviersobased performs in the darkest, dingiest corners of New York City. He pops up at what are essentially high school parties and skater linkups, with little to no boundary between artist and audience. Sometimes you need a map DMed to you to locate where he’s gonna play next. You and your friends follow a doodled red line on a blurry Google Maps screenshot, veering off into the forest somewhere in [redacted]. Below an underpass, teens swarm like hornets as a DJ plays a TikTok-pilled mix of Frank Ocean, Lawsy, Bandmanrill and Steve Lacy. A girl erupts on some onlookers for filming her doing graffiti. A couple skaters try for the fifth time to fly over some rolled-up human bodies.

Next to the underpass is a wide open, disc-shaped clearing. Near its center is a gaping hole with radiant light poking through the scaffolding. A small crowd is drawn to its glow like moths. One climbs down, then others follow. Xaviersobased—an unassuming guy, no older than 17, no taller than 5’6—peers into the abyss, egging on the spelunkers with a grin.

You’ll probably miss Xaviersobased’s set unless you stick around till 3AM (I went home). But as your eyes and ears get heavier, this all starts to feel like his music, anyways. The chattering kids, the clattering skateboards, the blown-out bursts of Pinkpantheress, the stench of weed and cigarettes. It’s almost cliche at this point to say that internet music spawns from information overload—what doesn’t? It’s more exciting to me to find that red line through the noise, or, tonight, to escape from it entirely.

So where’s the path through Xavier’s music? To start, you might notice that it’s high-pitched and highly rhythmic, little bursts of vocalized nothings looped over and over into euphoric incantations. Songs seem to end, start again, collide with new songs like someone’s fucking around with a DJ controller. Vocally, he is cool and nonchalant, sometimes kind of blissed-out, sometimes kind of flat. There’s so much music, at least nine projects this year alone. (Instead of making the obvious comparison I’ll just point you to his actual collaboration with the BasedGod.) Drawing from the bouncy rhythms of Michigan and Milwaukee rap, sharpening the plastic teeth of early digicore, these muddy mixes start to feel like sugary dance music, like pop radio being chewed up for nutrients by the Iron Giant. Xavier’s music hinges on your investment. First listen, it might sound like scare the hoes music. Listen to a lot of it—I recommend starting with who are you?—and you’ll start to feel its groove and pluck out Xavier’s funny, Duwap-esque lyrics.

And then you finally catch a real-life Xaviersobased set. This one’s somewhere in Bushwick by a herd of slumbering trucks and buses. Bodies torpedo under the moonlight as “crisp dubs” squelches out of a PA. Someone tosses a dead rat from a bridge up above. And there’s Xaviersobased, performing songs with 100k SoundCloud streams like they’re anthems to new nations, dancing to the cutting-edge rhythms of rap music and bringing a fresh-faced scene together. – Mano Sundaresan

Music for games that don’t exist, with titles you can’t even type

I know I’m getting deep in the SoundCloud abyss when I hit that realm where people are using curly-wurly gibberish hieroglyphs instead of letters and words in the track titles. It’s like the song version of naming your band “Various artists.” You’re reveling in the void of non-searchability. Four Tet did it. In some cases, cryptic lettering can heighten the eeriness of the music if it’s equally otherworldly, like with sigilkore’s sibilating craziness. The effect works really well for 7Nightz and Sayako, a couple of artists making this strange blend of bitcrushed, video game-themed pop/rap. The mixes sound like they’ve been battered in a heavy-load dishwasher cycle.

The two are clearly inspired by Yabujin, a Lithuanian MC who makes freaky mutations of cloud rap and electronica. What I like about their music isn’t that it derives from the artist, who has a small cult following online, but how you can see them grapple with the inspiration and move beyond to build their own region of sound. It’s similar to the evocative MapleStory-inspired music made by kaystrueno and lostrushi but even more like dusty old roaming video game soundtracks. Their songs have all the trappings of a game vibe—blurry or zoomed-in thumbnails taken from old video games, impressionistic synths, echoing effects: birdsong, laughter, human cries chopped into stabs of fluttering falsetto. 

One of my favorites is their collab “Templar of Ocean Kiyomizu” (I butchered the aesthetic, the actual title is all screwy-lettered), which sounds straight out of a Pokemon Mystery Dungeon level with lovely production from 201hz. There’s a fluidity to the core elements of the sound (the pixelated quality, the neon-feather melodies) that makes it easily transferable to other genres like trance and funky chiptune music.

A year and a half ago I did a radio show on something I called “gamebient,” this trend of young artists (from robloxcore to lo-fi beatmakers to Machine Girl) creating fictional game soundtracks or making music that felt like you were transported into a game. Listening to Sayako’s music, I was convinced some of the instrumentals had to have been sampled from a video game. But when I asked the artist, they said their friend produced all of it. This is some of the realest music I’ve heard in that uncanny-valley vein, an entire sound-world built on video game cues. – Kieran Press-Reynolds

Yellin’ Out the Sunroof 

PERHAPS it’s not all a one way street. Perhaps the laws of traffic don’t apply anywhere but on the road. A left-hand turn is not a turn, just a western veer in this stuffy jungle. There are trees and people and then less trees and more people and then more trees and less people. There are things like windy days and blooming flowers; wilted roots and winding hours. Everyone once had an idea until their eyes became canopies for the frail corpses underneath. To expose oneself, to let the hot world burn one’s insides, takes the courage of standing naked in an arena full of floggers. To walk up the side of a mountain road in a northern Italian city. Where cars are flying by inches from one’s body. To reach the peak and sit and think: “No places are so different.” A church was raised on the bend and a legion of soccer stars are buried nearby. Scatter some marbles and run at them full speed in silk socks. Sliding fast, roll your ankle. Tumble dramatically down the stairs. Slap your friends in the face to express how much love stings. Bite your lip and scream bloody murder when you stub your toe on the curb. Watch it emerge from your skin, oozing like hot magma. Let it drip and leave a trail, like a cat carrying a chipmunk by the neck. 

A POWER outage was the most freeing thing. There were trees blocking the road. Vegetation disrupting the grid. The sky’s colors were an impossible palette. A sherbert orange only real in dreams, a glossy rose found only in caves. We watched the windows rattle and introduced ourselves to the neighbors when the eye came over us. We had both been living there for months but hadn’t said hello. It turns out they were very nice and they even took a Polaroid picture of us to remember the moment. We got out the ball and tossed it across the street. We had about fifteen minutes until it ramped back up. So we tossed and talked and ran around and admired the view. A tree branch nearly destroyed my car. It started again. We went inside and stood in the sunroom. The windows shook, a transformer exploded. We ate so well that night. It ended so we went for a walk. Rubble and debris everywhere; a few street lights had fallen over. I smashed my beer bottle on the pavement. That wasn’t a very good thing to do. He set up his gas stove on the sidewalk and cooked pancakes for everyone. I walked to her house. A wave of humidity hit me when I opened the door. There was a swarm of people playing a drinking game and it was so dark and she was sitting there drunk and disinterested. A man was irking her so I challenged him and won. We went back to my place. Outside some more neighbors came and their two beautiful dogs ran to her lap. She sat there for nearly an hour and they remained at peace. The rest of us talked about things and drank warm beer and sat on the street. The grass was moist and soft. We went back inside and ate dry cereal. I opened every window then we fell asleep on the mattress.

NOW it’s noisy and we look different. The dirt is always cursing us out. The streets scream YOU DON’T BELONG. LEAVE US ALONE. Leave us alone. The shoes don’t fit in the closet so we leave ‘em in the hallway. There is always muck on the bottom of our feet. We leave a stench behind everywhere we go. So we go to where it’s already smelly. The artificial pits of this proud nation. A bar that hired an interior designer to make it look more grungy. A venue three floors down with health violations that charges $42 plus fees. I tried running but the fumes from the factories stole my breath. So I sat down and watched a Ford Raptor gallop through a rain puddle. The water smacked a middle-aged woman but she didn’t even flinch. She stood there still with her grocery bag then crossed the street. Her jeans were soiled but what’s new. Don’t yell at the sky–spit on the ground. It’s not anyone’s fault at all. – Millan Verma

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