Lorin “Bassnectar” Ashton is the guy you love to hate, or hate to love, depending: a self-professed ‘music as social justice’ hippie from the Bay Area who also wants to rock your body while you take spiritual drugs to the beat. There’s a reason he’s a regular at Burning Man, the festival that’s all about empowerment and self-expression but where only about 97% of the attendees go home afterwards. (I’m kidding, almost everyone crawls back to where they came from eventually.) Reports of his shows from concertgoers don’t come out so much in words as they do in gasps and splutters, their minds having been blown clean against the wall the night prior. So far, though, Bassnectar has had—let’s be kind and call it — “mixed” success in bringing the party to the bedroom. When you’re jumping up and down in a sweatbox venue and the low end is causing the stacks to rattle, you don’t care how dated and simplistic that shit sounds. Maybe it’s actually better. Still, that’s what 2007’s hip-hop-fetishizing Underground Communication was, and fatigued, as if Bassnectar had already killed it at the club and recorded the album in a state of half-alertness.
He could have followed Underground Communication with almost anything and it would have been an improvement, but even so, Cozza Frenzy is a lot better than its predecessor for exactly five reasons: 1) “Boombox”, 2) “Cozza Frenzy”, 3) “Cozza Frenzy (Mega-Bass Remix)”, 4) Bassnectar’s remix of Mr. Projectile’s “Love Here”, and 5) Bassnectar’s remix of Fever Ray’s “When I Grow Up”. Instead of expending his energy on club sets at the expense of an entire CD, he seems to have given considerably more juice to about half of Cozza Frenzy and forgotten about the rest. One exception is the truly awful “Churn of the Century”, where Ashton’s detectable efforts to incorporate an oom-pah brass sample into a thuggish romp beget a Frankensteinian creation that could clear out a room. But that’s the exception that proves the rule. When Bassnectar tries, his blaring, beat-driven techno is positively galvanizing. It even holds up as home listening, though household pets in the area should receive written notices before you plan to play it.
Latching onto dubstep, now the electronic musician’s molding clay of choice, in place of hip-hop beefed up the music and gave its compressed skronk a more fitting context. The result is a muscular doomsday electro-shock that can both shake the earth and send fists rocketing to the sky; Jock Jams as re-envisioned by Liam Howlett and Kode9. All cylinders are firing on the title track, a hip-hop/dub monster spitting biohazard alarms and drums that sound like bodybuilders trying to break a tanker with two-by-fours. Though it has rap lyrics, it’s not grime. The lines are sung by US rapper Seasunz, a relative unknown, and his contribution is slow and sexualized in particularly American fashion. Bassnectar has picked up J Dilla’s bad habit of employing rather dull stylists, but he’s nicely manipulated Seasunz’ pitch levels, and the verses work well as placeholders. The “Mega-Bass” remix that follows has the authentic feel of early dubstep’s Croydon roots, and I only wish that some enterprising British MC could have guested—maybe Wiley, or one of his disciples who’d be able to shout over all the chaos.
“Cozza Frenzy” is the album’s single, and a fantastic one at that, but “Boombox” might be even better. An overly complicated Bassnectar would go against principle, but I dare say the combination of brutishness and dynamism makes this song, in its big dumb way…extraordinary. Less anthemic than “Cozza Frenzy”, “Boombox” begins the record like birdshot, with a storm of beats, bass and sirens tearing holes through plaster. There are no verses. Instead, Bassnectar takes archetypal MC boasts and treats them as if he’s an artillerist: “Spit heat rocks on the track trac-trac-trac-trac-trac-trac”, “There’s (gasp!) nothing in life that I can’t achieve, cuz (gasp!), nothing in life that I-I-I-I-I-I-I!” Ashton remixes Fever Ray’s brooding “When I Grow Up” and actually darkens it further, playing with volume and subbing in a flat rhythmic smack for the original’s pings and pongs. Why it isn’t on Fever Ray’s own remix album is beyond me. It’s one of the most accurate takes on Portishead’s Third since Third itself. Just as surprising is the remix of Mr. Projectile’s “Love Here”, where Bassnectar’s low-end bulges become the palpitations of an aching heart. Ashton impresses when he’s given subtle raw material to work with. It’s the avenue by which his tricks assume new, poignant meanings.
We now know that Bassnectar can be big, badass, even brilliant, so it’s somewhat frustrating to see a sizable portion of Cozza Frenzy not deliver. Hip-hop tracks “Backpack Rehab”, “Teleport Massive” and the seven-minute “Window Seat” relive his jejune back catalogue. “West Coast Lo-Fi Rides Again” is an awkward bit of glitch-hop that sounds as if its inspiration was, of all things, the Ninja Turtles video game. I can’t see what anyone would find appealing about the painfully lazy (and grammatically incorrect) “I Wish I Was a Hipster”, except to smirk at the irony of the title. If you can pass this off as artistry and get away with it, you are a hipster. I did say, however, that this situation is only somewhat frustrating, and that’s because Ashton has never really set his sights on making full-length statements. He’s more likely to send a window-shattering track to people on his mailing list than wait to release it as part of a greater whole. Cozza Frenzy’s cover, an explosion of random objects photoshopped together as if by No Limit Records, is a clue about Bassnectar’s approach to album-making. I suppose that’s fine for now. When he’s on, he is on, and the rest of Cozza Frenzy just kind of falls away.
// Notes from the Road
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