(self released, 2011)
James Ferraro has recorded some wildly interesting music, made such not only by its inherent listenability (or decided lack thereof – and that’s not a bad thing), but also by the sociological debates the albums engender. See, for example, my review of On Air, released as “Jim Ferraro.” Or, take 2011’s divisive Far Side Virtual, a “critic-proof” record if there ever was one: Did it get under your skin, on your nerves, or did you outright hate it? Good, it was Ferraro’s intention, as he used the most annoying and cloying presets and samples on purpose. Did you consider it a critique on consumer culture and, as such, a masterful deconstruction on the rapid disposable pace of modern tech? Good, then the record’s for you, because you “get it.” There’s no middle ground.
So now there’s BEBETUNE$ (which has now morphed into BODYGUARD, more on that in the future). In a boring recitation of what everybody’s already said, inhale C-4 $$$$$ is Ferraro’s take on the hip hop mixtape, injecting his persona into the made-for-the-internet ready-to-download cobbling of ideas dropped as soon as finished to the nearest Tumblr or Twitter feed. (As if daring us to mention it, Ferraro’s Twitter handle is JFerraro_zip.) There are some good ones out there, the mixtape landscape is not the veritable garbage dump it could be (there are some bad ones out there too, for sure), so it’s not as if the delivery method is unjustified.
But is it odd that Ferraro’s even doing this? A noise artist in the past with The Skaters and Lamborghini Crystal (among others), Ferraro as solo entity has veered toward processed gumball-pop send-ups and song cycles, and of course the stacking of Pro Tools and Garageband presets on Far Side Virtual, so it’s often hard to pin down where he’s going to wind up on the spectrum. But even with the man’s many interests, it is a bit strange hearing him tackle club thump on this set. It’s a free mixtape, though, so here goes – and spoiler alert: I’m not going to tackle much new critical ground here. I am going to tell you how I feel about it, so, there you go. Shields up. Click away now.
In short, it’s a disappointment. Without the benefit of having any idea what forces or inspirations are going to inform any given Ferraro release, there’s no anticipation. And while that may work in Ferraro’s favor, when I heard that he was dabbling in hip hop and R&B on this mixtape, I let out a big, fat “meh” in response. I couldn’t see the connection, or the point. Did that cloud my reaction to how I approached the record? I can’t lie and say it didn’t, but I was still somewhat curious. Turns out that I was about half right – I wasn’t that keen on the idea of a “rap mixtape” from Ferraro (I’m pretty picky about them in general), so I was surprised that it wasn’t a bunch of junk rhymes (there are very few vocals on inhale C-4) and stupid beats. The tunes were “pretty bumpin’,” as the kids say (they say that, right?), but I found my concentration wavered not long into any given track. The talent and solid construction of the tracks were evident, but they lacked staying power – inhale C-4’s biggest flaw is the sense of indifference it’s bound to provoke.
Don’t get me wrong, the leaden beats and synth lines won’t fail to rouse your neighbors into calling the cops at 2:00 am, but it’s all background noise – even when the ideas are good, like opener “R E P T I L E ONLINE” or “#GRINDLYFE,” there’s so little variation that you’ve got to wonder if Ferraro should have included hip hop vocals to spice things up. He does a pretty good job of laying the groundwork for a rap mixtape sendup, even inserting a voice pitch-shifted to chipmunk status throughout that intones “BEBETUNE$,” presumably to remind us what kind of music we’re supposed to be listening to, as it parodies (or parrots) the inward-looking self-propping inherent in the genre. These are club bangers that can’t get themselves off the ground – I can imagine a DJ getting a confused and annoyed response after dropping a BEBETUNE$ track into the set. I don’t think I’m wrong about that.
But it gets tricky. I start caring around track eight, “LI$$TENING WITH MY EYEZZZ (feature yung cea$er),” and who knows who “yung cea$er” is, the vocals are tweaked and inaudible. But the beat is tight and the synths are sharp, and it’s probably the first song here that I could imagine hearing over a PA system without that sense of indifference. This kicks off a four-song block that makes me wonder if there’s more to BEBETUNE$ than a mere dorkified mixtape would suggest, as “Pepsi Baby,” “Sahara Jr.,” and “SIRI POP” dabble in cellphone pop and Arabian peninsular sounds, getting away from the heavy G-funk vibe of the rest of the album. These four tracks breeze pleasantly by, and confirm (what we’ve really known all along) that Ferraro has too many tricks up his sleeve to be confined to one sound for too long. We should all be grateful for that, at the very least.
I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to learn that inhale C-4 is some Kaufman-esque joke on everybody, and the only person in on it is Ferraro himself, but, let’s face it, that was probably Far Side Virtual. He’s likely laughing his ass off regardless at this point as his songs (at least the titles) resemble Twitter fodder more than anything else, complete with hashtags and underscores, and twitpics of froyo joints pass for transmissions to his fanbase. Whatever. I’m not buying it, considering the relative pleasantness of inhale C-4, and the fact that a ruse that outlandish is pretty transparent nowadays (Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarro year that culminated in I’m Still Here notwithstanding). I’m OK with Ferraro’s seeming niche as the noisemaker who reflects our fucking stupid American culture back at us through carnival mirrors. I’d much prefer to view trainwrecks through that prism than, say, Entertainment Tonight, or something equally vile. But BEBETUNE$, God rest its soul (in favor of BODYGUARD), is nothing but a genre exercise gone “hmph,” with a few decent minutes worthy of reflection to return to.
RIYL: Clams Casino, Hype Williams, Jodeci