Monday, December 5, 2011

REVIEW: Psyche Origami - Is Ellipsis

By Austin K.

Hi internet. Yeah, I know I didn't post anything last week. Back off. But now I'm back and better than ever before. And I come to you bearing gifts, specifically this review of an album from 2005: Psyche Origami's Is Ellipsis.

As you read in my WRUB blurb, I've spent a good portion of the last few days watching my old [adult swim] DVDs and pining for the days of Space Ghost and The Brak Show. Remember watching the first seasons of Aqua Teen when you were eight? Remember how bizarro-world that show seemed? Remember desperately anticipating summer because you could watch all of the fine [as] programming, because [as] only plays anime on Saturdays during the rest of the year? And remember the community there was in the early days? There were message boards for every show in the lineup, and fan podcasts as far as the eye could see. And the bumps! Oh those bumps! As far as I'm concerned, those bumps are some of the best pieces of television ever produced. They fascinated me so much as a kid: This is a television station that has these mini-commercials that don't advertise anything that play these weird psychedelic songs of some unidentifiable genre. And because I was watching so much [as] at the same time that I was really opening myself up to a lot of music, there are so many amazing artists I found through these bumps: Flying Lotus, Nujabes, LFO, Yesterdays New Quintet, and Prefuse 73. And a lot of these artists were people who made me really appreciate hip-hop as an artform. I started watching [as] in an obsessive fashion from a fairly young age, specifically my "really-really-pretentious-only-listen-to-Captain-Beefheart-and-the-Residents" phase; say around 6th grade. I never really looked beyond the cultural opinion of hip-hop, namely it being dumb, and misogynistic, and of no artistic worth whatsoever, and I took that opinion as my own. And I always wondered Why is [as] playing these *scoff* "rap music" songs? But then I began to listen to a lot of these instrumental producers, especially Flying Lotus, Nujabes, and Madlib, and I began to garner a huge amount of respect for these artists. But still, the annoyingly pretentious snob in me shone through, and I still refused to give any seriousness to rappers. What do they have to say? Let them rant about their "cash" and "bitches", I'll take Beefheart's drunken-uncle ramblings anytime! Well, as it turns out, they actually have quite a lot to say.

[as] was integral in helping me realize that. It was their partnership with Stones Throw that really beat that into my skull, and I'm glad they did because I was really missing out on some fantastic music. I had listened to a few Stones Throw records before, J Dilla's Donuts obviously being the most notable in terms of instrumental hip-hop, but when I finally did up and listen to a traditional Stones Throw rap music album (Madvillainy was first I believe) I was an instant convert. Hip-hop, just plain ol' hip-hop, is a really simple equation, one that I didn't pick up on immediately. That is: Compelling, interesting, beat-driven music + poetry. Ignoring every part of hip-hop culture you've ever known, or thought you have, those are the base elements of rap music. That's how I started to understand it, by just discarding every preconceived notion I had, and only focusing on what was there and how I felt about it. The overall worth of a rapper isn't how much money is in their bank account, it's how well written their material is and how well they present it. Which is something that the good folks at Stones Throw were excellent at introducing me to.

Backtracking to my pining for the good ol' days of [as], I've been drowning myself in YouTube videos of old bumps, and nostalgia'ing out. Like I said, I listened to a TON of these things a few years ago, and I've heard most of the ones kicking around the yewtewbz. However, there was one that I hadn't heard which caught my ear. That song is featured in the playlist to the right of this article. And that song is called "At Last" by Psyche Origami. I dug the song a lot, enough to pick the album up and listen to it non-stop for about a week, but what really drew me to it was something I couldn't put my finger on until a few days ago: a lot of the [as] music, and just [as]-esque music, while it didn't exactly aggressively oppose previous hip-hop culture (and some of it doesn't at all), it's experimentalism separates it from what a lot of unacquainted people would call "rap". But Psyche Origami, still maintaining it's distance from radio rap, manages to revel in hip-hop culture, specifically Golden-Age hip-hop culture, instead of rejecting entirely. In fact, when I first listened to "At Last", I would have sworn it was recorded circa 1993. The really organic production and excellent scratching compliments of DJ Dainja and DJ Synthesis, and rapped choruses (from the group's MC, Mr. Wyzard) that burrow their way into your skull like no one's business, comes off like a group about 18 years to late.

But it doesn't come off like a group who is capitalizing on a sound from 18 years ago. The samples, poetry, and overall aesthetic are reminiscent of Tribe Called Quest, with the peaceful lyricism and jazzy production and all that. They really are paying tribute to Tribe and the rest of the golden agers, not ripping them off or trying to hard. And that's not to say they don't do anything else with the music, it does get fairly experimental at times. There are plenty of DOOM-esque sound collages of different films and commercials, and surreal imagery abound. But what kept me coming back to it was return to very basic hip-hop, without heavy experimentation, or horrible egocentricity, or gross misogyny, or what have you. It resparked my obsession with a lot of classic hip-hop, and I found myself going back and listening to the really early days of rap, and researching the early culture of hip-hop. Which was something I had previously ignored, unjustly I think, because it really is kind of fascinating. I really need to pick up a book about rap history, but there's something really interesting about listening to a song consisting of nothing but a drum beat (maybe a jazz sample or two) and a guy reciting poetry over it, which is a kind of minimalism that's become lost to the ages, and that Psyche really nailed down.

And yeah, I know these reviews are always front-loaded and don't talk about the actual music much. I'm working on it. Bye internet.


  1. Austin, I'm loving this. Thank you so much you scholarly motherfucker.

  2. Please, if I acknowledge that the interview is bad in the actual interview, "scholarly" go right out the door.

  3. Man it's pretty eerie how similar your and my experiences with Adult Swim have been. I was even in a big "listen to a LOT of Residents" phase right before I started really exploring bump music.

    Anyway, great review. It still weirds me out a little how obscure these guys are. I mean, I guess they did kinda come late from a stylistic standpoint but still.