Cex – Maryland Mansions EP

Maryland Mansions EP

Of course, no Cex review would be complete without an introduction detailing the man’s live antics. Cex is renowned for his lengthy rants, naked dances, and generally erratic behavior during his shows. This reputation turns out to be a double-edged sword; on the one hand, he gets lots of curious visitors at his shows, but on the other, his studio outings tend to be dwarfed by his overwhelming concert persona. Despite – or perhaps because of – these continued pressures, Cex (the alter-ego of average citizen Rjyan Kidwell) has driven forward at a madman’s pace. Ranging from IDM audio-masturbation to IDM hip-hop to IDM acoustic hip-hop, Cex has tried just about anything, so long as it includes some IDM flavor.
Of course, any mixed-bag of styles results in a mixed-bag of successes and failures, but luckily for Kidwell, Cex has just a few more tallies in the “winner” column. So, continuing with his musical odyssey, where has Cex found himself now? Unfortunately for me, the humble and scatterbrained reviewer, the answer is not so easy. Maryland Mansions kicks off with “Drive Off a Mountain,” a charmingly ridiculous combination of musical elements: IDM, trip-hop, indie rock, hardcore, and industrial techno. “Drive Off a Mountain” is schizophrenic, frightening, brooding, and malevolent. Caustic, industrial drums give way to gentle acoustic strums, and a cooing Cex to a throat-shredding one; the song travels the line from gentle to downright cruel.
“Stop Eating” is a party jam with a theme many high-school kids can relate to: bulimia. Instead of attacking the triviality of the self-inflicted disease, Cex takes an interesting approach: he provides justifications for throwing up food, the absurdity of the process never directly touched upon but made abundantly clear. Cex does this with coldly clever rhymes situating bulimia appropriately on a battlefield: “I will make myself into the shape of a weapon / burn off the fat till I’m all sharp edges.” “Kill Me” incorporates 80s synth-pop, industrial techno, and Liars-esque dance-punk into a menagerie of abrasive lamentations. Interestingly, this is more like the Paper Chase than traditional IDM. As Cex distances himself from his past musical footholds, he sharpens the edge of his lyrical blade a bit; where once humorous and playful lyrics dabbled in between bouncy beats, now dark musings sulk under alternating caterwauling walls of abrasive noise and gentle acoustic plucking.
It seems that Maryland Mansions is a sort of compendium of loosely related ideas floating around Kidwell’s expansively creative mind, and as such, it hardly plays like an album. Parts of the record are upbeat and electronic, others are subdued and organic. The one unifying theme, however, is the malicious lyrical content showcased throughout. Ever-present are Cex’s self-defining lines placing himself in the world of hip-hop and everything in general, but here they appear in much more sinister forms; on album-closer “The Strong Suit,” he shouts: “I don’t “get up’ / I don’t “get down’ / but I still breath / at least for now / …and I won’t break down.”
Many attendees of Cex’s shows come out believing that if there’s anyone who doesn’t take his music seriously, it’s Cex himself. Maryland Mansions may show that this isn’t necessarily true; the lack of playful material on this EP confronts the image that Cex has in indie spheres. Challenging, volatile, flawed, and inspired, Maryland Mansions is a schizophrenic footnote in the chronicle of Cex’s career thus far. Kidwell is coming up for air while drowning under the weight of his own creative mind, and the result is far from perfect, but it’s an indication of many new ideas and trajectories to come.