[23 November 2009]
An accident in Mexico City and a providential return from Barcelona seem like very different unrelated events, sharing the Spanish language as their only commonality. But they both became congruent in the dusty altitudes of Flagstaff, Arizona when Tim Holland and Bud Berning combined their respective musical forces to form Sole & the Skyrider Band. For Sole it was the natural culmination of an unconventional hip hop career, which started as a battle rapper in Maine before co-founding Anticon Records and espousing a non-rhyming brand of abrasive poetics that drew the ire and disdain of many purists. With the Skyrider Band he continues to defy the traditional approach to hip hop, eschewing production and using a live band to create the sonic backdrop for his scathing lyrics.
Their self-titled first release was saturated in erudite editorials that critiqued culture, empire, apathy, and political topics. As insightful as it was satirical, as lyrical as it was sarcastic, it marked a darkened and dyspeptic transition for Sole. Their second release, and first on Fake Four records, Plastique continues in the same vein of dystopian observation and bitter cynicism, though it must be said that this quality is obvious but never overwhelming. Thank God (or an atheist jihad), because no one wants to listen to a sonic exegesis on hopelessness for forty minutes. The tone is instead marked by solemn realization, dissecting the many facets of pop culture and familiar Americana with the precision of a razor.
As the title suggests, the album is also an exploration of synthetic existence, as exemplified by the tongue-in-cheek technology observations of “Children of Privilege”. The anti-materialism sentiments of “Nothing Pt. 2”, which states that “nothing’s going to love you back / and nothing’s going to pay your rent”, are similarly biting twists on hip hop’s “keeping it real” credo. “Battlefields” is something of a class warrior anthem, though it also touches on feelings of disillusionment regarding success and sacrifice, explained over an urgent rhythm and brooding bassline.
On that note, the Skyrider Band, now minus Berning, play their part well in crafting the bleak musical backdrop for Sole. The instrumentation is typically sparse and fluctuates between subdued, as on the critique of accumulative possession “More”, and frenzied, like with the crashing insistence of album closer “Black”. As much as Sole’s lyrics, the band effortlessly creates the texture and tone of Plastique, their arrangements sounding at once desolate and brimming with the fullness of discontent. The structures are distinctly hip hop, but they are also carefully constructed against the grain of repetitive sampling and crunked-out keyboards, a quality becoming increasingly rare, even amongst independent artists.
Plastique, then, is the result of equally scornful counterparts that unite to attack, disparage, and deride mainstream conventions. There is also a kind of nihilism enveloping the record, one that can be found in the empty pockets and empty souls the world over, regardless, or perhaps because, of status, healthcare, creed, and states of consciousness. This isn’t something for the Pollyanas and Dick Cheneys out there, that much is certain, and it must be said that this kind of unrelenting cultural irreverence is essential to the welfare of music, and society at large. Plastique utilizes scathing hip hop to bring to light the despondent affairs of America through the use of dark constructs, an irony you can be assured isn’t lost on Sole & the Skyrider Band.