Material Girl’s experimental rap opus is a joy to listen to; a puzzling album deeply entrenched in the richest lofi, trance and hip-hop flavoured ambience.
A tangram is a centuries old puzzle from China, in which the player reorganises seven shapes to create new outlines. There are only seven pieces, but from this handful come hundreds of possibilities for games and lines of thought. The puzzle is known worldwide for its ability to create pleasing visuals, paradoxes, and inspiration – all qualities that apply to experimental hip hop artist Material Girl’s new album, named for the puzzle in question.
“Tangram” is representative of a rare kind of artistry – in the underground or elsewhere – in that it is born from the purest kind of creativity, the type that doesn’t care for commercial viability but doesn’t play into the system by actively running against it. Material Girl’s efforts are wholly unique, but he doesn’t market himself as some kind of martyr of late stage capitalism, an increasingly popular image to chase. This album is well defended from socially minded criticism because it at once draws from global influences and remains distant from the zeitgeist. The record’s seven cover arts (presented as a tangram set on Bandcamp but individually through each of the tracks on Soundcloud) are abstractions of worldly experiences. There are spikes and circles and streaks, but also crowns and pills and scratches. This is reflected in the music itself; sporadic orchestral nonsense on “No Runner” is a heart attack or a tornado, whereas the unrestrained purity of “Flood” is a well earned rest when one is most needed. It also helps that the music itself is so captivating that the world going by becomes a half-speed blur.
Framing “Tangram” as chained to the real world is unjust though. The record is lovingly and carefully designed without bowing to conventional standards. The occasional spot of incongruity adds to a sense of vigilant hurriedness as more and more textures spill out into the mix. The bass at the end of “Swoon [I’ll Be There For You In Chicago]” is a touch too loud, frantic strings scratch a little too high on “Platypus”, but it’s all done with purpose. The audience can’t become too comfortable and each next step is obscured by these wilder choices, giving moments of peace real impact. The first and third phases of “Funeral Parade of Roses” are quietly analogue, full of clicks, switches and button presses turned into percussion, or perhaps the other way around. As mentioned, “Flood” is a misty synth-heavy ride through a dark-skied alleyway, guided by guest City Light Mosaic and a rap verse from Material Girl himself.
Amidst the thickly applied ambience (which really does permeate every crack of this album) are evidences of serious musical proficiency. “Funeral Parade”, at almost ten minutes, is the longest track on “Tangram”. Towards the end the song becomes at once more driven and more sweeping; gentle synthesisers rise and fall like tidal waves as the raw power of a drum machine rattles and blasts away. Herein is a paradox as Material Girl orchestrates this split crescendo of intensity and calm. Intro track “Clutch” and then “No Runner” set the atmosphere in place with irreverent noise and interference against clean samples and house rhythms, also stating and displaying Material Girl’s intentions. Nothing is random despite all the chaos.
The last track of “Tangram” is “On My Way Out”, a straight up rap song performed atop a crushed stack of flute and drum samples. It’s a fitting goodbye, a more typical reward for those who may not be so accustomed to music as exploratory as this. Material Girl raps “Last track of the album, it’ll never cop a Grammy” with a mix of frustration and pride. He should go with the latter – the Grammys don’t deserve music as good as this.
Listen to “Tangram” here.
– Jamie (@youngjade1216)