If not for a chance conversation, Cody ChesnuTT’s The Headphone Masterpiece would still be a buried memory. And that is very unfortunate.
When I bought the album in high school I felt as if I’d uncovered a rare gem. Sure, my purchase was informed by Rolling Stone’s review, but these songs didn’t fall under the slickly produced R&B rubric of the time. For one, the cover looked like a slapdash graphic design produced with cheap computer software. And across two disc’s worth of material, ChesnuTT explored varied sounds, from neo-soul to rock and roll with only his voice, instruments, and a scratchy sounding multitrack recorder. It’s safe to say that this was my first experience with lo-fi music.
But now I experience the album quite differently. I see the cover as an extension of the message. On the bottom left there are flags of Germany, Japan, and the UK along with a Rastafarian flag and a purple flag which I can’t identify. This is the album: elements of the known and unknown brought together with a personal touch. The name Headphone Masterpiece doesn’t strike me as arrogant or ambitious either. Rather, it seems to me that this is how ChesnuTT genuinely felt. Hell, if I produced ninety plus minutes of music in a sustained phase of creativity, I too would think I’d created a masterpiece.
So when I was reminded that this album had been collecting dust in my collection, my first feeling was regret. I felt as if I’d forgotten a friend whose eccentric company I very much enjoyed. I still remember hilariously irreverent lyrics such as “Thank you Jesus, for my mama/ And I thank you bitches, for my money.” But now it doesn’t feel the same. Artists like Ariel Pink and Here We Go Magic move me with stripped down production and bedroom intimacy. ChesnuTT, however, reminds of a time when musical curiosity and shock value meant more to me than feeling. And while I think Headphone Masterpiece is a seminal neo-soul album, it doesn’t speak to me like it did before. I guess I wish we’d kept in touch.