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Tomorrow Right Now

(Warp; US: 11 Mar 2003; UK: 10 Mar 2003)

On his debut full-length Tomorrow Right Now, Beans is both floating somewhere in the upper galaxies and cooling out on city streets. His style is at times way-out surrealism, like a slightly less bizarre Kool Keith, and at times old-school grit. And like his compadres in Anti-Pop Consortium, Beans’ rhymes are heavy on the words, recalling poetry-slam showstoppers as much as hip-hop songs. His ability to throw words in a frenzy meets his tendency to shift styles and hop decades, adding up to intoxicating music with a distinct personality.

The title Tomorrow Right Now could be “I am the future” braggadacio, appliance-ad style, but it’s also a reflection of Beans’ tendency to travel times and collapse them into one. If his oddball style and slightly sci-fi poetry make him seem like a futurist, he also takes serious dips into the sounds of the ‘70s and ‘80s and often adopts a more straightforward rhyming style reminiscent of hip-hop’s early years. “Phreek the Beet” is a gleeful trip into early ‘80s electro, a genre that nods its synthizer-laden head here and there throughout the album, while two acapella tracks—“Crave” and “Booga Sugar”—strip his sound down so far it’s like peeking back at the roots of rhyming. The acapella songs give Beans a chance to show off his vocal skills minus any embellishments, while displaying two very different sides of his music. “Crave” is a beat box-laden, singy-songy tribute to hip-hop that has a certain carefree showiness about it, while “Booga Sugar”, essentially a spoken poem, is a serious portrait of drug addiction.

One of the best tracks on the album is also stripped-down and direct: the meditative “Toast”, which puts listeners squarely in a very non-futuristic place: a New York City metro train. “Toast” takes full advantage of both an atmospheric soundscape and Beans’ nonlinear rhyming style to set up a feeling of introspection. The song feels like a heartfelt close-up look at the state of hip-hop, the state of America, the state of the world, yet its words are ambiguous and hard to pin down. It’s a reflection of the sort of thoughts you might have on a subway ride, and through ambiguity it leaves room for listeners to fill in their own. The song could be an examination of those topics or it could be about something else entirely, depending on how you hear his words; its world is yours.

While “Toast”‘s late-night urban mood drops listeners off in an aural location that’s likely familiar to hip-hop fans, elsewhere on Tomorrow Right Now Beans uses that same tactic to make you feel like you’ve been brought into less familiar locales. The sparse beats and odd noises that open and close “Mearle” use silence to evoke haunting, slightly uncomfortable places and feelings. That type of aura recurs throughout the album, particularly on three mysterious instrumentals, “Sickle Cell Hysteria”, “Rose Periwinkle Plum” and the dub-like “Xon”, but also in the backing beats to tracks like “Slow Broken” and “Walking By Night”.

“Booga Sugar” ends with the line “My reality is Booga Sugar”, indicating that the narrator’s worldview has been so dominated by a drug that the drug has become the worldview. Throughout Tomorrow Right Now, Beans seems fascinated with perspective, and with using sound to alter listeners’ versions of reality. Beans sends listeners into ghost worlds, into moments of meditation, into versions of the future, past and present filled with paranoia and confusion. Tomorrow is here now, and it’s filled with as much darkness as light. Beans ends the album with the question, “Why not do something sensible like shooting yourselves?”, but he phrases it in an over-the-top, cartoon way, making it unclear how serious he is. Like everything on Tomorrow Right Now, it carries with it multiple angles and perspectives, pointing at you to figure it out for yourself.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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