COME TO LIFE is a meditation on Gavin Mays’ belief in the potential of every individual, regardless of the daily battles they might face. Through Cities Aviv, his ideas are supported by a selection of mostly self-produced beats that encompass mashed-up fusions of sound. Each track pulls on a percussive collage and transposition while providing the tools for venturing into obscure compositional formats. In accordance with the accompanying videos, this is a reflection on inner thought processes and the impact they have on decision-making, should such contemplation be allowed to manifest. In its essence, COME TO LIFE is a command that’s identified as “ceasing the moment,” as “bringing ambitions to fruition,” as exploring underlying promise.
Mays presents these concepts as hard fact, where they come belted in the flow he drives incessantly forward. He raps with an energetic gusto that’s more powerful and pronounced than anything he’s released as Cities Aviv in the past, which is presumably one of the reasons he’s often frustratingly compared with the likes of Death Grips. The two acts may have shared a stage in 2012, but their recorded output is wildly different. Mays has acquired a depth in his music that transcends the boundaries of those he’s often clumped with, and that’s also reflected by the diverse list of artists he has worked with in refining such a distinct joint (Maria Minerva, BIZZARH, and Antwon come to mind in particular).
In the context of Mays’ technique, it feels like there are two external components that steer his aesthetic across COME TO LIFE: his frequently discussed involvement in the Memphis hardcore group Copwatch, and his own personal interest in “redefining the obscure.” He’s spoken in the past about how seriously he took his role in the local hardcore scene, and the power of his voice on this record appears to stem from that realm. Lyrically, distant flecks of nihilism make the occasional appearance — “Fuck everything, kill money/ I’ma download everything still” — but there’s rarely any sense of aggression that comes with the dominant nature of his delivery. The lyrics are straddled by an off-key humor that somehow bridges a connect with references to introspection: “Overnight and I’m out/ You can pay respects to my hologram,” he quips on “HEAD,” before making bolder statements about the direction he has taken to assimilate his current form, even when he finds it to be empty. “Gates of heaven and gates of hell/ You peer straight through the cavity of the self.”
The obscure in this case could be interpreted as a deviation from any attempt at commercial rap, or even other “internet rappers.” Indeed, a desire to veer from expectation is demonstrated right at the outset, where the hissing drone buildup on “INTRO” folds into the hyper synth pattern and 80s percussion vibe of “FOOL.” In addition to the motivational drive of his lyrics, Mays toys with atypical backing tracks in exemplifying the enthusiasm he has for his expressive style of hip-hop. That innovative take bounds through the album’s first single “URL IRL,” with its beautifully coiled samples and attention grabbing chants — “Do you realize?” he bellows during the intro. Although there is a midway slump in the fiery energy that gives the record its fervor, this force-enthused experimentation is encountered time and time again, most memorably on the closing number “DON’T EVER LOOK BACK,” where the vocals are looped to reveal a hint of sadness in spite of everything that came before it.
Hard-hitting jams such as “DISSOLVE” and “(SELF100) YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE” are deployed to bring out that combination of impact and obscurity, but they consequently overshadow the less poignant pieces that follow. The former tracks assume some of the most inventive sequences Mays has worked on, blending his sample exploration with the pop aspirations of Black Pleasure. However, that doesn’t bode well for “(VIEW180) PICTURE ME GONE” and “WORLDS OV PRESSURE,” which both sound sluggish and tired in the company of what surrounds. But even when taking those stark contrasts into account, the bulk of tunes pack an extraordinary punch and allow Mays to remain just as paramount as his approach. COME TO LIFE is a continuation of the captivating style he brought to the fore with Digital Lows; it’s motivational, sure, but it’s also thought-provoking and catchy as hell.