sound patrol 1-6-05
Cool Beans keeps it jumpinÂ’
Shock City Maverick
Two years after the demise of his trio Antipop Consortium, hip-hop iconoclast Beans is keeping busy. In 2003, the New York-based MC and producer released his first solo album, Tomorrow Right Now, and an EP, Now, Soon, Someday. In late 2004, after attention-getting stints touring with such underground-rock hotshots as Tortoise and the Rapture, he dropped his second full-length, Shock City Maverick. Kanye West and his fellow chart hogs probably aren't sweating the competition, though. Although the pocket-protector set hangs on his every syllable, Beans has yet to seduce the hoi polloi. Maybe it's because he scorns the usual hitmaking tricks - sing-along R&B hooks, celebrity cameos, cheesy horn samples, the seemingly obligatory "comedy" skits -- or because he's signed to Warp, a UK label that specializes in undanceable dance music; whatever the reasons for his obscurity, one suspects that Beans doesn't care whether he ever makes the cover of Vibe.
Calling himself the Ornette Coleman of rap, "the link between Suicide, Sun Ra, and Bambaatta," Beans clearly has ambitions of another type: not the Cristalle wishes and Hennessy dreams of his mainstream counterparts but the desire to overturn the conventions of his genre, to spearhead a revolution in sound. Let lesser MCs traffic in infantile consumerist fantasies, the opiates of the bling-addled, bootycentric masses; Beans just wants to make it new. His sound is a fractured fusion of American hip-hop and tetchy European glitch: Lockstep techno beats bump up against knock-kneed cellos; sci-fi synths collide in a cacophony of chirps and bleats. Whereas most producers privilege hooks and choruses, the shiny ProTooled trappings demanded by today's party people and their Clear Channel masters, Beans makes dystopian funk for postapocalyptic robots.
As a lyricist, Beans is no less challenging, spitting out run-on sentences and random images with a violent precision, his flow seemingly unencumbered by the constraints of syntax or human lung capacity. Elegant and nasty, cerebral and visceral, his bizarre vernacular brings to mind a hip-hop William Burroughs. Even when Beans resorts to standard boasting, he does so in a decidedly unconventional way: "Trailblazer instigator insubordinator devastating radiating golden phonetic pyrotechnic author of your obituary, adversary of the arbitrary," he rants on "Papercut," a Dadaist battle rap of sorts that sounds like the soundtrack to a 22nd-century spaghetti Western. On "Shards of Glass," he dismisses his detractors with a sneer: "Moth-ridden minds of nonbelievers say he ain't ill, he's incoherent." Maybe, but at the beginning of the previous century, people said the same thing about Gertrude Stein.
Handsome Boy Modeling School
In 1999, "Prince" Paul Huston and Dan "the Automator" Nakamura formed Handsome Boy Modeling School, a vehicle for their delusional playboy alter egos Chest Rockwell and Nathaniel Merriweather. Their genre-busting debut, So . . . How's Your Girl?, immediately became an underground-rap classic, a guaranteed party-starter for fin-de-siÃ¨cle college students and irony addicts. Named after a skit from Chris Elliot's short-lived sitcom Get a Life, the project had all the hallmarks of a one-off novelty: a grab-bag of guest-stars, genres, esoteric samples, and comedic turns from such iconic has-beens as Father Guido Sarducci.
Well, Sarducci is back for HBMS's sophomore outing, along with Saturday Night Live comedian Tim Meadows and a motley assortment of guest musicians ranging from Chan Marshall (Cat Power) to John Oates (Hall and Oates). The results are sometimes delectable -- given the prodigious production skills of Prince Paul and Dan the Automator, how could they not be? -- but the joke, alas, has worn thin. Amusing as it might seem to team up David Lynch chanteuse Julee Cruise with Neptunes brainiac Pharrell Williams, or gangsta-freak RZA with prog screamers the Mars Volta, the tracks themselves often seem subordinate to the concept, dilettantish exercises in whoa-dude mixology.