Release Date: Oct 15, 2013
Record label: Hippos in Tanks
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
Jean Baudrillard at a Stevie Wonder concert: “A strictly regulated release, a cold ceremonial, very far in human terms from its own musical savagery, which is merely that of technology. ” Call it the Stevie Wonder dialectic: Afro-diasporic pop culture conceals not a quantization of truth (groove as the soul in motion; humanity as a pattern of similarity), but a radical equivalence between the two processes, the expressive and the imprecise swelling behind the lattice of a timing grid. Corollary speculation: • Perhaps rhythm does not belong to the foundations of the city.
James Ferraro’s latest album, NYC, Hell 3:00 AM, opens with 22 seconds of a text-to-speech app repeating the word “money” over and over in a synthesized woman’s voice that was probably engineered to sound neutral but, in this contex, sounds like the flattened affect of a person in the midst of a psychotic break. If, as its title strongly suggests, the record is meant to function as some sort of portrait of New York City, it gets off to an accurate start. The picture that emerges from there on isn’t any more flattering.
Whether one found pain or pleasure in James Ferraro's mysterious landmark Far Side Virtual, it was an unremittingly bleak black mirror, twisting horribly familiar source material stripped from the contemporary digital brandscape into a set of uniquely alien compositions for the modern age. That album signified Ferraro's emergence from lo-fi and often extended cassette tape and CDR jams to become a perpetrator of hi-definition digital miniatures. However, since Far Side Virtual in 2011, follow-up Sushi and his Cold mixtape saw Ferraro veering away from abstract instrumentals and towards a wonky, glitchy sound that it was even possible to nod your head to.
With James Ferraro, one never knows if “subtlety” is just another conceptual parameter he’s tweaking for our (or his) entertainment. The prolific producer (who’s released several albums and mixtapes under his own name as well as the monikers Bodyguard and Bebetune$ since 2011’s critic-tickling/stumping “Far Side Virtual”) finds many gentle ways of fusing his fixations here — uncertain strings flow beneath broken R&B tropes, and Ferraro’s off-tune vocals wander from their Auto-Tuned comfort zone, sounding lost. Less gentle are the outbursts of media chatter.
After a pretty good run in (surprisingly honest) schlock r’n’b with last year’s Sushi and this February’s COLD mixtape, James Ferraro has decided that eight months is time enough for a change, and is seeing off the year with dubious about-face NYC, Hell 3:00AM. In a move that smacks of keeping one eye on Dean Blunt’s recent popularity and the other on The Weeknd as a target for bad satire, Ferraro has switched from glossy, bottle bar r’n’b parody to lo-fi, bedroom-dwelling tortured singer-songwriter. If it’s an attempt to create something honest, the effect is lost in the character that Ferraro has spent years projecting.