[25 May 2006]
Being Kurtwood is ostensibly Zucchini Drive’s debut, but chances are that alt-hip-hop fans have heard at least one half of the duo somewhere else before this. Siaz, born Tom de Geeter, is a member of Belgium’s always-interesting Cavemen Speak, while Marcus Graap has performed as part of the more-obscure Stacs of Stamina. But this isn’t even the first time the two have collaborated—beyond releasing an album together as The World After 4/02, the two MCs joined Bleubird and Xndl to form the alternately-acclaimed-and-hated-on foursome Gunporn. In this sense, then, “debut” is hardly an accurate term—the formation of Zucchini Drive is more of an excuse for reinvention, a deft dodging of expectations-based sophomore slump syndrome, and a chance to possibly start anew, none of which things are anything wildly unexpected in the world of avant-garde hip-hop. But unfortunately for a group that tries to define itself as experimental, neither is their album.
The general groove that Zucchini Drive rides is one of minorly chaotic, emo-dark electronic beats, while the two rappers bark out their fittingly-distressed emo verses. The problem with their lyrics is that, where their better contemporaries (Mike Skinner, Sage Francis) achieve similar effects to greater extents with better technique, be it well-observed detail or sharp social commentary, Zucchini Drive operates on a vaguer, Linkin-Park-reminiscent level, dropping lines like “On the run from everything that we know / Be on the rainbow, screaming when I sink like a stone” without really elaborating why. Even when they do attempt to explain, they do so with social-consciousness buzzwords (once again sans further elaboration) like “Nine to five, no surprise / County jail, system fails”. Maybe it’s that English doesn’t appear to be their first language, but the lyrics alone can’t distinguish Being Kurtwood from other albums like it.
And musically, the record is similarly unexceptional. The production on “Painting Things in Sombre Colours” by Italian group Giardini di Mirò actually does a capable job of building tension, while Markus Acher and Aqua Luminus III blend interestingly pretty lo-fi guitar into “Sombre City” and Lauri completely trips out the music on “1000 Streets Beneath the Sky”. Styrofoam’s work on “Vagabondage” crawls and slithers like Neptunes-lite in a tinny electro machine, while Siaz and Graap flow a catchier-than-usual vocal hook; “Earth to Kurtwood” is an atypically beautiful beat, built off of guitar but laced with strings, and lines like “Laugh, laugh when I’m taking a bath / Laugh, like you don’t know how to cry / And live like you don’t know how to die” make it a high point for the album.
Taken as a whole, Being Kurtwood is a tense, angrily introspective ten-track rundown of tough-guy shoegazing, generically despairing raps, and competent but generally unimpressive production. The kind of album that some feeling-lost teenagers might really get into, listen to over and over and feel along to, eyes wide, “oh shit that’s my life”, but eventually grow out of; the rest of us remain entirely unmoved.