Food for Animals – Scavengers

Food for Animals

Over the last 10 years, indie hip-hop and noise music have been gradually converging in one of the most unlikely genre matings this side of prog-punk. Company Flow started the onslaught with chaotic hardcore beats. One of the members of the now-defunct Co-Flow, El-P, has continued the legacy into the 21st century, utilizing spacey, computerized beats that often seem sonically disheveled but hide a more subtle tunefulness below. Aesop Rock, a member of El-P’s label Definitive Jux, produces tracks in much the same way. This gradual evolution has lead certain sectors of hip-hop from the tuneful, beat-happy early days of hip-hop to the denser, more muddled walls of sound with which some rappers work today. Well, if this is evolution, then Food for Animals is at the top of the food chain. The band’s debut Scavengers is the ultimate mule born of musical donkey and horse. But will it be sterile like its animal counterpart, or will the melodic mutation be fruitful and multiply? Read on to find out.

The story goes that a certain Mr. Volture Voltaire heard a certain Mr. Ricky Rabbit’s beats in a certain friend’s car and was immediately taken aback by their unique sound. The two came together and Mr. Voltaire started rapping over the beats. The result is something quite unlike anything I’ve yet heard (and I generally pride myself on staying aware of new trends in hip-hop).

The CD’s first proper song, a little ditty named “Elephants,” features a massive, crunching, sonically schizophrenic beat that, upon first glance, doesn’t even seem to follow any musical pattern whatsoever. Voltaire claims to be “Thumping like elephants humping in your trunk.” This obviously isn’t your daddy’s hip-hop. “Elephants” is followed by “Brand New,” a post-apocalyptic romp that brings to mind images of streets filled with burning tires and dead bodies under a nuclear-orange sky. The beat is slightly more tuneful than that of “Elephants,” relying on a distorted voice sample and some huge fucking drums. At this point, I’m not sure what exactly is happening, but whatever it is, Voltaire seems pretty pissed. “Brand New” is a very unsubtle anti-Bush rant. Voltaire asks, “Does an open mouth scare you?” after proclaiming he’ll “Fuck up your ticker with a ‘Fuck Bush’ sticker.” And of course, what would backpack rap be without a declaration of superior intelligence? “I feel the quake when I pass ya / ‘cause you’re a grape and you’re wine when I smash ya.” Well, not everyone can be as eloquent as Aesop Rock.

Interspersed between pithy segments of rap are cut-up noise interludes, most of which are more noisy than interesting (the only exception being the closer “Ttfn”). Fortunately, these are brief enough to be bearable, and the lengthier and more prevalent beats over which Voltaire raps are generally more exciting. “Cut and Paste” seems to be a sort of mission statement for the duo; Voltaire raps, “I don’t write novels yet / I write raps / and I don’t make music yet / I make noise / but that got you listening in five seconds flat” and “My CD-Rs are better than your CDs are.” “Scavengers” is the most completely realized track on the disc; the beat is simultaneously melodic and noisy, and Voltaire is at his best when he has a solidified rhythm to work with.

Except for “Brand New,” the other tracks fail in that they forego tunefulness for complication and noise; in other words, they sacrifice payoff for uniqueness. While Food for Animals is obviously trying to be different, certainly an applaudable goal, they lack the tact to do so effectively for the duration of an album. They have the raw materials; Voltaire’s voice is baritone and aggressive and he spits some pretty sick lines, and some of Rikky Rabbit’s beats succeed in being accessible and dissonant. But Rabbit’s beats too often fail in the delicate balance he pursues. With a little more development and discretion, Food for Animals has the potential to release the next great indie hip-hop – and potentially the first great noise-hop – record.