Powell has matched his high-concept buffoonery with a fittingly wacky record that tiptoes the line but never oversteps it.
This first time we heard news of Powell’s debut album was through emails he sent to fans, who had obtained his contact info through rants he posted on billboards in New York and London. That nugget of background alone is enough to give you an idea of how likely Sport is to favor unconventionality, but when paired with Powell’s historically bizarre sense of humor, it would be odd if Sport was anything but a wild ride.
Powell fulfills that promise. This album is a bonafide head-scratcher, the type of record that doesn’t dispel the mystery the way cohesive projects tend to, but rather strengthens the abstraction of Powell’s artistry and persona. It’s supposed to be “fun and playful,” but the most playful thing about it is an outward lack of form and aesthetic boundaries. Surface-shattering noises pop up so frequently that, as they develop, their shock value turns into a prime source of power. It’s confrontational, but the lasting impression is hard to shake, leaving you uncertain at the time of impact but, by the end, developing an impressive accumulation of grooves and aura. Sport goes places it really didn’t have to, but it makes a mountain out of each one.
Just like most great electronic albums made for the “mind and body", Sport leans towards the former and keeps the latter in its pocket to deploy when convenient. It’s still sweltering, spontaneous, and erratic, but the convulsions it provokes tend to be more cerebral than physical, the greatest sources of texture beings ones that make you stop and think. Sure, Sport relies heavily on physical extremes; it opens with 30 seconds of harsh noise before leading into a song called “Fuck You, Oscar”, which buzzes and spars for its entirety. Every element is flimsy, with the bass struggling to pierce the mix and the rhythm sputtering like a malfunctioning engine. Yet, although the oddity of his compositions is instantly identifiable on a visceral level, the carefully placed details are what really give these tracks their staying power.
The substance tends to come from the samples, but every idea drilled into these repetitive tracks carries a smirk; if you question their gravity, you’ve already lost. “Frankie”, with all its rumbling low ends and kitschy grooves, is Powell at his sardonic peak, a whole track centered around deadpan chants of “you encounter culture". “Plastic” takes an almost Mean Girls-esque sample of speech and loops the word “bitch” so that the inflection becomes a profound punchline. “Jonny” is practically a new-age post-punk banger, where stone cold vocals are chopped up above layers of rattling guitars. Every time you hear a voice on Sport, it’s packed with absurd humor. Songs like this exist in a headspace that blends industrial, chic, and disco while simultaneously making fun of all three. Whatever the intention is, it’s gripping.
However, Sport wouldn’t work if it was merely an indulgent collection of snide experiments. This album is rambunctious, but it finds the motivation to unearth rhythm in each sonic clusterfuck, and when it locks into a groove, the results are marvelous. Powell has matched his high-concept buffoonery with a fittingly wacky record that tiptoes the line but never oversteps it. It rests on a high-risk juxtaposition between frivolous and tasteful, thoroughly peculiar but equally satisfying.