Music

Northern State: Can I Keep This Pen?

In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne was labeled with an A. Here, Hesta Prynn and crew are batting for a B+ and a Most Improved Award, to boot. Hawthorne just can't keep up.


Northern State

Can I Keep This Pen?

Label: Ipecac
US Release Date: 2007-08-28
UK Release Date: 2007-08-27
Amazon
iTunes

It's 2002! You're probably still reeling over that long-awaited release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and can't get the Hives' "Hate to Say I Told You So" out of your head. Yet you may have forgotten one of this year's most oddball releases: the debut album from Northern State. Mainly because it's not every day that you hear about a rap group of three college-educated white girls who go under the names Hesta Prynn, Guinea Love, and DJ Sprout. They sure do use those five-dollar words to the max. It's not the greatest record of the year, but a fun diversion. I sure do wonder if we'll hear about them five years from now …

It's 2007! Remember that group of college-educated white girls who called themselves Northern State and rapped a lot? Well, they're back, following a disastrous sophomore album release in 2004 on Sony's major-label joyride. Yet, something very strange happened during their five-year career: they grew up. Though their third album -- Can I Keep This Pen? -- is far from perfect, it's still a remarkably accomplished disc that stands as their strongest release yet.

The largest difference this time around is how the three women aren't trying to impress you with their lyrical prowess. Now they're actually talking about themes, crafting character pieces with beats that are uniformly stronger all around. "Things I'll Do" is about both doing all the work in a relationship while also bragging about how easy it is to do said work, all while riding a gritty mid-tempo beat. The excellent, album-highlight "Sucka Mofo" is a fast-paced club track where the trio disses posers with their own unique flair ("Soon you're gonna be / Spinning like rotisserie"). The new wave-styled "Better Already" is a left-field empowerment anthem of self-realization that works well. Though it would be easy to qualify them as posers (a criticism that has dogged them since day one), their flow is absolutely impeccable, as evidenced by the flawless nature in which this twisty verse is spit:

Deep water, deep cracks

Deep holes and decreases

Sleeping dreams and broken pieces

Pick them up and make them fit

Quit or don't quit, get evens

Some new shit you can't go even

However, Pen does run out of ink a couple of times: the laid-back "Cowboy Man" doesn't really cohere together as a full song (mainly due to the jarring mix of folksy acoustic guitars and sci-fi keyboards), the dramatic closer "Fall Apart" rides a great beat but the computer-filtered cooing drains more tension then it adds, and "The Three Amigas" just falls flat. "Oooh Girl" is a toss-off from their previous albums, where their wordiness just gets the better of them:

Winners never quit, quitters never win

I'm lanky and go by the name of Hesta Prynn

I haven't seen you since we were in West Berlin

Now y'all be lookin' like my Siamese twin

(Knock, knock) Who's there, Prynn? How ya been?

Do you still have my copy of Huckleberry Finn?

It's like round and round we go one more 'gain

I'm sorry, can I keep this pen?

It's moments like these that mar the album's flow, making it easy to overlook fantastic little gems like the rock-ready "Iluvitwhenya" and the surprisingly sweet ballad "Run Off the Road". Like all their albums, it's haphazard, but never before have the highs been this high. If the group continues down this road of near-maturity, they may very well be on the verge of releasing an album that's not only solid, but possibly even revelatory.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.