[25 September 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Restiform Bodies don’t like American consumer culture. That fact becomes apparent pretty early on their new record, the sarcastically titled TV Loves You Back. The off-kilter hip-hop group takes ten tracks to tell us what we already know. TV is bad. A consumer culture is, well, against the consumer. We’re all being made to buy things we don’t need and value things—shown to us on television, apparently—that are inherently valueless. All so some nameless, faceless, power-wielding being can make some money.
If that all sounds vague, it’s because the complaints Restiform Bodies proffers on their new album are just that. Too bad, really, because musically they are anything but vague. The music on TV Loves You Back is energetically scatterbrained. Opener “Black Friday” shifts from one disparate beat to another, speeding up and slowing down tempo what seems like a dozen times in just three minutes. Throughout the record, the group deftly meshes harsh and unadorned hip-hop beats with warmer elements of electronica. “Pick It Up, Drop It” samples clips of violin, mixes them with a fuzzed-out sythesized bass, and lays them over a simple old school beat. “Ameriscan” builds itself over an electronic drone, slowly and more insistently than any other track on the record.
But musically none of the songs sit still very long. They hook you in long enough to make you comfortable and then flip the track into something totally different. It’s a compelling sleight of hand. Too bad they can’t switch topics and moods as quickly with their lyrics. Songs like “Black Friday” and “Consumer Culture Wave” seem to both condemn the culture around us, and condemn us as individuals for participating. It might start as juxtaposition, but it quickly becomes muddled contradiction. Are we the QVC-hooked hollow heads from a track like “Panic Shopper”? Or are we the doves they sing about, tragically turned to pigeons when surrounded by overbuilt and ugly cities. Could we be both? Sure. But Restiform Bodies don’t explore that duplicity, and instead reserve as much scorn for the individual as they do for the culture.
And when they’re not condemning consumers that, they seem to imply, are too dumb to know better than to buy stuff, the group take faulty aim at sexual politics. “Pimp-like God” tackles the well-run-dry topic that is marrying for money. And “Foul” starts with the line “My dick get dizzy like a busy bayonet” which, joke or not, sarcastic or straightforward, is one of the worst lines you’ll hear in a hip-hop song all year.
Despite its musical strengths, TV Loves You Back never comes to much more than a lot of aimless whining. Restiform Bodies also conveniently exclude themselves from a culture that, judging from the level of attention they seem to pay it and the frustration they feel, they are very much a part of. The album consistently shoots for aloof sarcasm and irony, attempting to send up TV culture as something silly that shouldn’t have the power it does. The problem is, anyone with a pulse already knows this. And TV Loves You Back does little, if anything, to shed new light on the subject, making Restiform Bodies come off not as clever and thoughtful—which is clearly their aim—but instead as pretentious.