Ivory Tower is producer-cum-rapper-cum-record-breaking-pianist Jason Charles Beck’s sixth solo release and perhaps his most varied yet. While past offerings from Beck, better known as Chilly Gonzales, have been known to switch gears from the first track to the last, Ivory Tower covers more ground than expected from such a schizophrenic stylist. Emotive piano instrumentals, harpsichord and flute cameos, shoddy rap disses, and the sort of disco stompers that DJs bring out at the peak of a really good dance party all get to shine here.
Although the genre diversions should keep the listener of Ivory Tower guessing as to what will greet their ears next, it should not be surprising that there is a proliferation of instrumentals here. The album is, after all, a soundtrack to a film of the same name, starring Gonzales and DJ/producer Tiga as chess players. However, given that Gonzales was prone to dropping the instrumentals between his raps and other excursions on previous releases means that Ivory Tower comes off less like a soundtrack and more like a proper Gonzales release.
“Knight Moves”, whose title can be forgiven once the premise of the film is taken into account, opens Ivory Tower beautifully. Not surprisingly, the song is piano based, but Gonzales switches things up with the addition of a jazzy beat and cooey female backing vocals. Follow-up “I Am Europe” tricks the listener into thinking it will follow suit before getting truly weird. Its opening minute is dancey and upbeat if a bit Euro trashy, a trait which is explained when Gonzales finally pops in and drops surrealistic lines like, “I’m an imperial armpit sweating Chianti / I’m socialist lingerie, I’m diplomatic techno / I’m gay pastry and racist cappuccino”. Standing alongside “Europe” from the Indelicates’ great Songs for Swinging Lovers, this is one of the finest Europe-skewering tracks of the year.
Gonzales’ sole stab at MCing on this outing comes in the form of “The Grudge”. For all his progressions as an artist and producer, the man has yet to show much growth as a rapper. Despite a grin-worthy line or two (“You are my mountain and I will piss on your summit” at least gets a rise of some sort), the song is what one could expect from an artist whose back catalogue contains a song entitled “The Worst MC”. After the delicate yet forgettable “Rococo Chanel”, the jazzy “Never Stops”, and the madcap “Pixel Paxil”, Ivory Tower hits its peak with “You Can Dance”. This is a song that sounds like a party, complete with group vocals, disco strings, and a sense of uplift that comes out of listening to a favorite song among friends.
Ivory Tower ends on “Final Fantasy”, a somber counterpart to “Knight Moves”, and one that suggests the outcome to Ivory Tower the film—which will be released in September—may not be the most joyful. However its visual aspect matches up, Chilly Gonzales has at least done a fine job shaping its aural side into a stand alone piece. It may be a grab bag, but Ivory Tower‘s contents are largely satisfying.