I had the good fortune this past weekend of seeing my sister from another mister, Miss Manners, host of Hip Hop Hooray on KOOP Radio in Austin. Naturally, we quickly began talking about what records we were listening to, which quickly transitioned into a discussion about not only how good the new P.O.S. record is, but how excited we both were to listen to it. When you listen to a large volume of records and keep up with new releases, it can become difficult to get genuinely excited about a particular album. There’s plenty that you’ll enjoy, and it’s genuinely good, but it’s tough to really stand out with a unique sound and voice and energize your listeners. That’s a tall order. We Don’t Even Live Here doesn’t just stand out amongst the crowd, it’s bursting with so many new ideas and has so much energy, it’s impossible not to get excited about it.
If you’ve been following P.O.S. over the years, you know that his sound has been heavily informed by his past in hardcore, which he then took elements from and transposed it into a hip hop context. WDELH marks P.O.S.’s biggest departure from that particular style, working with fellow Doomtree artists Cecil Otter and Lazerbeak, Innerpartysystem’s Patric Russel, Gayng’s Ryan Olson, and German deejays/producers Boyz Noise and Housemeister to help expand on his past work. Bringing everything together is producer and engineer Andrew Dawson, a former high school classmate of P.O.S. who has gone on to work with such mainstream artists as Kanye, Jay-Z, and Beyonce. The result is a style that takes the punk energy that P.O.S. is known for, especially the drums, and brings in more of an electro-hip hop style to the overall production. Nowhere is this new style more upfront than the opening track, “Bumper,” which opens with some quickly pulsing kick drums and hi hats immediately providing a sense of urgency. This is built upon, bringing in a low, fuzzy bass line that sneaks in, more felt than heard, then driven by a short melody delivered on a pitch-bent synthesized tone that will stick in your head for days. Some songs sound more traditionally hip hop, such as the Lava Banger laid down by Lazerbeak for “Fuck Your Stuff,” which is impossible to listen without cranking the stereo. Others recall the powerful anthems he’s delivered throughout his career, such as “Lockpicks, Knives, Bricks, and Bats,” also produced by Lazerbeak, this time effectively using space and a slower tempo to open things up and let the lyrics lead the song and build the tension and energy over the course of the song. The most hard hitting punk rock song on the album is the closing track, “Piano Hits,” which features Isaac Gale of Marijuana Deathsquad screaming his lungs out. However, even on a song like this, there are some really fascinating and exciting breakdowns in the song that bring in a German-electro influence that plays really well off the rest of the song’s frantic energy.
Combined with this inventive and urgent production featured across the album, P.O.S. uses his lyrics to make the case for Best Album of 2012, not just in quality, but in communicating effectively the state of society at this time. He really captures the anxiety and impatience with the established powers that more and more people in the U.S. are feeling as the class lines amongst those of us not in power have become more and more blurred. Is there a better anthem against materialism than “Fuck Your Stuff,” when so many of us have been reduced to just trying to get by and have begun to resent those that haven’t struggled? How many frustrated, left-leaning progressives does P.O.S. speak for on “Wanted/Wasted” when he says, “Black President - hooray for history! This shit still feels totally pretend, I mean…” Juxtaposed with a chorus that says “We’re the best in the world” that’s delivered with a tone that sounds more confused than boastful, P.O.S. is really making a plea across the board to all of us to get involved and fight back and make things better. The song also features one of the low key verses you’ll hear out of Astronautalis, who also delivers some really biting sociopolitical commentary that you’ll miss if you’re not listening closely. It’s not just subject matter, either. It’s easy to get caught up in the energy of the music and anarchic politics of P.O.S. and to overlook the amazing way with words he has. Going back to “Lockpicks, Knives, Bricks, and Bats,” where you’re really forced to pay attention to his words, P.O.S. more than rises to the occasion, dropping lyrics like, “I’m not invited, I’m not crying/ Calling out crimes, acting in kind, not blindly/ Just looking for a line to read what’s under the bed, the last threads unrest, and the flesh in restless/ Can’t choose to stop us, we some bad news maracas.” The imagery just jumps from the record, and the depth and emotion that unfolds across the rest of the song takes you so much deeper than aimless anger. P.O.S. is upset for a reason, and he can explain why in way that both gets to the core of the issue, but also gives nuance to the situation.
When P.O.S. dropped Never Better three years ago, it completely blew me away, easily becoming my choice for Best Album of 2009. He made the time in between albums count, coming back with another LP that managed to recall the best of what we already liked about him, while also pushing the boundaries of his sound and style further. This absolutely has to be in consideration for Best Album of 2012.
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