Somewhere in the United States of Recession, a woman sheds pounds walking the mile to and from the train station for her daily commute, even if she has a functional sedan collecting dust in the garage. The neighborhood accountant has cooled it on dining out, instead opting to take up that passion of home cooking he was too busy (or scared) to pursue. A budding hipster ditches fake football tees for a rainbow wardrobe of cheap v-necks. It’s an economy of style: people are cutting back, and looking good doing it. Of course, you wouldn’t know that from some of the music currently deafening the blogosphere. Each decade takes a while to really take off, and this year is certainly feeling the hangover from the previous two. Big sounds abound in 2010, from lush beardo harmonies to reverb-drenched sun pop. Pop stars and guitar heroes alike want to sound bigger than ever (have you heard that Black Mountain album, for God’s sake?). It’s a bombastic, heavy world out there.
Emancipating herself from smartass rap trio Northern State, erstwhile rapper Hesta Prynn says screw all that. Can We Go Wrong clocks in at 18 minutes, just enough time to fill out an unemployment form. On paper, a shimmying solo EP called Can We Go Wrong (no question mark, like she knows the answer) from a rapper spells “disposable” for all but completists, but these songs sound so familiar, so comfortable on first listen, that the record’s sheer brevity is its most striking feature.
It’s a nouveau departure, but a welcome one. On top of some seriously block rockin’ beats, Prynn actually sounds more comfortable around the clubs than locked in the booth with a chicken-scratched pad of paper. “Motive” clatters and struts with Prynn working a speak-sing culled from some great lost Tegan and Sara outtake. It’s no coincidence—she toured with the Canadian twins and obviously absorbed some of their idiosyncratic take on ’80s synth-pop between sets. Sara Quin even gets on board as a co-producer to bring it home (the other part of that “co” being Chuck Brody, occasional knob spinner for Wu-Tang Clan and Ra Ra Riot).
Such a sonic diversion should shake off comparisons to another white rap trio from New York that have dogged Northern State, but if 2004’s All City was their License to Ill (cheap fun, if a bit one-dimensional), Can We Go Wrong is Prynn’s In Sound from Way Out!, a concise detour she needed to get out of her system. And who can blame her? The Internet’s near takeover of music means listeners have instant access to hundreds of sub-genres in a matter of clicks. If fans can’t hone in on a specific strain of Afro-pop-punk for more than a New York minute, why should the artist do it for more than six tracks?
For her own economy of style, Prynn avoids going overboard with experimentation, which the freedom of a release like this surely tempts her to do. Less is more on Can We Go Wrong, and cutting back means leaving drastic rap tactics on the backburner. Compared to the verbose rhymes of her jokey Northern State work, Prynn is downright laconic here. She’s crafty with hooks, too, and the half-wordless chorus of “Whoa Whoa” owes its amorphousness not to nonchalance, but necessity; after a certain point in the night, words are irrelevant. No matter: the beats are so shamelessly hummable that lyrics feel almost like an afterthought.
Prynn seems to agree. She moves the crowd with a “bum bah dam bah dam” lead-in on the liquid funk of “Recall”. Even the seething title track—which sounds like an eruption of resentment toward critics who dismissed her group as a gimmick—turns the last word (“wrong”) into a whoa-oh-oh cheer. And while the music is relentlessly upbeat, she sounds less animated here than she ever did rapping, almost jadedly deadpanning lines like “I’m feeling oh-so chic / Don’t you wish you were me? / It is what it is” in spite of the disco drive train and Saint Etienne echoes on the bilingual “Le Coq Aux Folles”. You can just picture her shrugging in the studio as she sings that last line, even when given the chance to sink her teeth into sexism (the title, roughly translated to “a rooster with all the hens”, turns hip-hop’s rampant pimp fantasies upside down).
Final cut “Recall” turns the house lights on so abruptly it’s uncomfortable, with Prynn intoning “It’s enough to start me off” before the beat comes to a grinding halt. With this EP, she’s well on her way to something more satisfying than hawking Al Gore references, and all she had to do was cut back. Is it bad to want a lot more?