When I gave a positive review to MC Lars Horris' Radio Pet Fencing earlier this year, the unavoidable question lurking at the back of my mind was whether or not Horris was a joke. Perhaps it would be better to ask -- should Horris' talent be judged at face value? Allow me to quote from my earlier review:
. . . [There] is ultimately no way to answer the question of just what Lars Horris' artistic expression means for hip-hop as a culture and a genre in the year 2004. I certainly can't answer it, because despite the fact that Radio Pet Fencing shows every indication of being a novelty album, there's enough honesty and sincere -- albeit clumsy -- artistry to reward repeat listenings.
The problem, as I posed it just a few short months ago, appears to have been put to rest. The Laptop EP is as strong a disc as I could have imagined possible. Horris' signature peculiarities remain intact, but his prodigious musical precocity continues to evolve at a frightening pace. The results are gratifyingly delightful.
The first track, "iGeneration", is an irresistible thesis statement, a call-to-arms for his entire audience. Under the guise of an impulsively hooky rap-rock tune, it is also an optimistic, enlightened prophecy for the future of a generation that has never known a world without omnipresent digital media:
"See the iGeneration knew organization / Meant optimization and unification / When imagination gave participation / In creation of culture a manifestation. The Berlin Wall fell and out we came / The post-Cold War kids laid claim to AIM. LOL, OMG, yo, BRB / Space, colon, dash, closed parenthesis. We sat at our laptops and typed away, And found that we each had something to say. Web-logged our fears, our hopes and dreams / Individuated by digital means. Fiber optic lenses, DVD / Coca-Cola, Disney and Mickey D's. Flat mass culture, the norm that took hold, I hope I die before I get sold."
If it weren't so wonderfully catchy, perhaps it would seem cloying or pretentious. But as it is, it is perhaps one of the year's single best tracks.
Another track that will undoubtedly gain attention is "Signing Emo". It's a satire of the music industry, encompassing the shady practices of Los Angeles A&R men as they follow the latest trends in a never-ending desire to find the next-best thing -- or, failing that, simply strip-mining whatever has already been proven popular. The verses consist of Horris telling the story of an up-and-coming Emo group, Hearts That Hate, signed to a major label when the Boss delivers the ultimatum: "We're down 2%, and BMG knows / My Daughter likes Dashboard, so get me one of those!" They explode into success but fade just as soon as their sound becomes dated. But it's hardly the shrill screed you might usually expect from an anti-industry tirade. Cleverly, Horris exploits the medium of his music as the message of his song: the chorus of "Signing Emo" is the actual chorus from Hearts That Hate's debut single -- and I'll be damned if it doesn't sound just like an honest-to-Gosh screamo anthem, in a Linkin Park-meets-The Get-Up Kids kinda way. It's just unbelievably clever and irreducibly catchy.
The rest of the EP is strong, although it doesn't approach the heights of either "iGeneration" or "Signing Emo". "Stat 60" is about, ah, Statistics 60, and features Horris being driven slowly mad by the course's complexity:
"Got STAT-60 on my mind / In my notes and in my rhymes. Chi-squared values all the time / Easy quarter? Not this time."
This song is made all the catchier by the appropriation of one of Avril Lavigne's signature melodies, as Horris questions his professor as to why Statistics is such a -- heh -- complicated course.
These three tracks are aided immensely by Mike Sapone's additional production and mixing acumen. As good as Radio Pet Fencing was, much of its charm came from the fact that it sounded incredibly lo-fi. Most of The Laptop EP is pleasingly lush, and it allows Horris' strong ear for melody and natural songwriting ability to shine through without any obfuscation.
If there was any part of me that still regarded Horris as a one-note novelty, The Laptop EP firmly convinces me that he is a musical prodigy of prodigious talent. The fact that he still can't rap to save his life ultimately means nothing, because his hooks are infinitely catchy and his lyrics are masterfully incisive. He's young enough that every song he writes has the potential to be definitively better than the one which preceded it, and he's smart enough to understand how rare a gift that is. I hope we hear more from MC Lars in the future, because he shows every sign of being an artist to watch.