Rjyan Kidwell has made a career out of defied expectations. His alter-ego is Cex, and as Cex, he busted into the biz at the ripe old age of 18 with a self-released disc called Cells. Since then, he’s hopped onto Kid 606’s Tigerbeat6 Gravy Train with a little bit of glitchy IDM (complete with a sense of humor that might have been ripped from the Kid himself), put out a hip-hop record, and waited until he was well out of his teens to break out the angst (on the appropriately titled Maryland Mansions). All the while, he titillates and confounds his live audiences with noise, scratchy beats, and some of the oddest (yet most intense) MC performances out there today. What could he possibly do for an encore?
For starters, he got married. His new wife, Roby Newton (originally of largely unknown bands Milemarker and Weather) now plays bass and adds vocals to the band, thus serving as the catalyst for the transformation of Cex from pseudonym to full-fledged band name. Filling out the roster is Cale Parks, most famously a member of Aloha.
Together, they come up with something revolutionary for Cex — Know Doubt is painfully ordinary.
Despite Kidwell’s contention that Know Doubt sounds like an IDM jam band, most of this five-song (plus a little call-in radio sound bite for a bonus track) EP sounds painfully calculated. The tracks bookending the disc are ambient exercises whose entire reasons for existence seem to be to fill out the running time. “Every Extreme” is dark and a little bit scary, but there’s nothing inventive or even remotely interesting about it. You can’t relax to it, you can’t tune it out, you can’t enjoy it, it simply exists. The juxtaposition of pretty synth noises with AM-Radio tuning-style cuts in and out of more abrasive sound has been done before and better by bands like Autechre. Final track “Opposite”, on the other hand, is much nicer, really quite pretty in its gentle glory. Newton takes on the vocals, providing some words that I, frankly, don’t understand, but it doesn’t matter — “Opposite” is about mood, and provides the pleasant release that this disc so desperately needs.
So then, there’s the stuff in the middle, supposedly the meat of Know Doubt. “State Secretly” is a surprisingly organic amalgam of pounding dance beats and squiggly digital noises, over which Kidwell spouts some menacing, paranoid lyrics from all directions. While the lyrics might well be spontaneous, the way in which they are delivered is not, as bits and pieces of the words come from all over the aural spectrum, the kind of trick that makes your eyes dart around, looking for the source. All things considered, it’s an effective track that’ll at least make you nod your head while it’s killing your buzz. “Contains It” is flat-out obnoxious, all walls of horns and noise and cascading vocal lines. There’s a good beat hidden in there somewhere, but there’s just too much emphasis placed on Kidwell’s singing voice, weak even in the multitracking. Finally, “Every Song Ever” is fairly effective when taken as an experiment in making stereo sound like 5.1 channel surround sound, but could pretty much be reduced to a quicker-than-average drum circle done on a computer when thought of as a song. Two layers of vocals that alternate words kill any momentum the beat builds up, and we have another skippable song on a release too short to have skippable songs.
Kidwell seems confused, paranoid, and a little depressed over the course of Know Doubt, spewing such profundities as “One day you’ll come home and they’ll all look at you different”, “Why did it end? Why did you have to go?”, and my personal favorite, “I think rock sucks”. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to translate all of those negative vibes into a convincing slab of digital media. Maybe on his next full length, he’ll be able to take all these conflicting emotions and craft them into something coherent — for now, we have Know Doubt, a release only for the most diehard of Kidwell’s fans. Tread carefully.