If ESPRESSO DIGITAL and FRESH ROSES embodied watersheds for negation, disconnection, and absence in music, for disruptions of the received and the given, then what might be signaled by JEANETTE, a mixtape that heightens the use D/P/I makes of pauses, glitches, blips, and negativities to a dizzying extreme? Common sense would dictate that any magnification in Alex Gray’s deconstructive tendencies would herald the obliteration of the world he dysfunctionally cites, that the acceleration in his defacement and fracturing of otherwise welcoming samples — via inserted whirrs, momentary silences, and rhythmic jolts — would equal the decimation of whatever vestigial sense persevered in his screwy mashups, plunging us into a chaotic blotch of noise intermingled with mutism.
Well, call it paradoxical, perverse, or providential, but somehow the L.A. producer’s increased exploitation on JEANETTE of all that sonically connotes denial, resistance, and retreat is, if not quite the opposite of an aural apocalypse, a shockingly constructive and affirmative experience, a buzzing synergism of stuttered beats and fluxing keys. And what’s more, the album’s run through manically disfigured house, hip-hop, and electronica is not only exhilarating in its density, but also revelatory in what it seems to be saying about negation itself, about how a “no” is more of a punctuation and redirection of discourse than an outright termination of or exile from it.
Take opener “STROBE LIGHT S,” where a distinctively erratic warp of metallic percussion eventually segues into a zig-zag of hacienda synths and stop-start tempos. Logic might dictate that here the near relentless interspersion of microtemporal halts and hesitations, and of rhythmic fits and pitchshifting diversions, would completely hobble any impression or sensation of movement and flow, acting as some kind of scatty refusal to engage with the outside world. Instead, the reverse is the case, with the juddered repetitions only multiplying the dynamism and speed inherent to its sampled base, bolstering the latent force of its source material and trafficking it more rapidly to its various peaks.
This might seem improbable on paper, yet the sheer frequency of atomic hitches and manipulations throughout the album occasions the reminder that all negation is predicated on having something positive to negate, implying that an increase in deviation necessitates a corresponding increase in whatever orthodox notes, sounds, and samples are to be disfigured, as well as an implicit affirmation of some underlying or more fundamental objective that antithesis sets out to “right” its thesis toward. In the context of overloads like the epic “CLEAN LEAN” and the hypnagogic “DRANKIN N N,” this results in an off-kilter maximalism, in a profusion of jittery beats and churning dance chords that, in opposition to the often alienated insularity of ESPRESSO DIGITAL and FRESH ROSES, collude with the reproduction of the external in the hope of recasting it on its own terms.
That D/P/I’s hyperactive use of millisecond interruptions and detours in fact engenders this railroaded complicity is brandished by how all seven cuts flow into each other seamlessly, as if JEANETTE were a single continuous and unified piece. And in addition to its underscoring of how negation always implies and depends upon the positive it negates, it also repeatedly hits us with the oft-marginalized apprehension that “negative space” is a complete misnomer/oxymoron. In “DOP E MAN,” twitchy manifestations of the latter serve both to inspire a restive vertigo that inhabits their ephemeral durations and to accentuate the clusters of wired snare and electronic smoke that follow, infiltrating them with extra impact and impetus. Moreover, this song and its predecessors have been stitched together with a keener ear for progression and development, their carefully paced jumps into variegated aural terrain proving two things: that negation — which is no less a form of engagement than unconditional assent — is at bottom constructive and that Alex Gray’s skills in exploiting renegade production methods in order to renovate the old into something almost unrecognizably “now” are only improving.
His whole anarchic and imperceptibly fragmented approach on JEANETTE is, in contradiction to initial appearances, exceedingly rich and evocative in its consequences. Taking the skewed rap-cum-uppity chillwave of “COUNTE R” as a prime example, his liberal imposition of false starts and machine-gun perforations introduces into the equation what information theory refers to as entropy and noise, or uncertainty as to the state and/or outcome of any potentially informative unit. In information theory, entropy is to be reduced (ideally to zero) for a transmission or communication to be deemed a success, but in art, its increase is generally the ideal. Furthermore, with JEANETTE this ideal is consistently attained, with its manifold disturbances of sampled vibes, speech, and emceeing (not to mention its broken song titles), creating an ambiguity that, by inviting suggestive gaps into its information feed, includes possibilities of meaning rather than excludes them, furnishing the listener with a much greater range in how he or she completes the puzzle.
And if that isn’t a sign of “good art” (as opposed to “good information”), we don’t know what is. However, even if we’re wrong here, JEANETTE is simply a joy to listen to, its overflowing energy and dynamic build making it Gray’s most instantly accessible record as D/P/I, despite it being conceptually challenging in its own right. It sees the producer transform what were once instruments of detachment and renunciation into instruments of peculiarized acceptance and extroversion, and despite being a touch monolithic at times in its jagged outflow, it’s nowhere near as obstinate or refractory as it wants you to think.