I remember the first time I ate a shrimp head. It had been separated from its abdomen, then fried with all its various legs, antennae, and chelae intact. Those twiggy bits make for an enjoyable crunch, but the real prize is the mushy paste of the brain, which I assume to be 95% cholesterol and which tastes like briny, meaty butter. Once you get over the initial revulsion and the secondary novelty of eating the head of what’s basically a big flea from the ocean, you find that shrimp heads are really more an indulgent, conventionally pleasant snack than a class-tourist double-dare. I keep finding myself processing Wallet & Cell Phone through the memory of this gourmand experience, certainly thanks to the cover art but at least equally to the fact that Gobby’s beatmaking appears first and foremost as a slimy yet satisfying collage of warm memories and discomfiting textures.
Producer and possible-alien Gobby has been mashing minute bites of intelligence into a pulp and reconstituting them as hypnotic house tracks rather prolifically for the past few years, most recently on Wakng Thrst for Seeping Banhee. By warping almost-familiarities into dilated, obliquely threatening grooves, that extremely fun and deeply upsetting album evoked a real-life Candyland left out in the sun for a few days and overrun with ants. Wallet & Cell Phone similarly drags apparently mundane samples into an amorphous echo chamber, in which even a 4/4 beat seems to be not a structural frame so much as just another item subject to the fluctuations of the environment, a backbone half-digested by a huge invertebrate.
But Gobby appears to be up to something more sinister than just pushing familiar voices and rhythms through a twisted extruder. On “Maid Scene,” as lines from a cheery, sickeningly domestic conversation are diced up and repeated endlessly as one element in a cascade of digital whooshes, one gets the unsettling feeling that it’s not just the unctuous production that’s alienating. The track operates with the phoniness of its subject matter as a premise rather than a conclusion, and moves on from that premise into a rabbit hole of rubbery beats and dreamy sweets so stridently that it’s hard not to be suspicious of what joke exactly is being played, and on whom. Gobby’s manipulation of samples and electronica tropes gesture toward the artificial and potentially deceitful quality embedded deep within the self-presentation of the objects of his appropriation — not to mention the obscurity of his own intentions — making for an indeterminate number of tongues in any of several possible cheeks. This is most literally evident on “MaybeImLying,” on which the title is repeated in a gravelly voice past the point of semantic satiation, as it weaves and echoes in and out of the foreground, with distant WOO!s briefly setting the tempo, interrupted periodically by the same voice saying “I get so dizzy and high.” The ambiguities are plentiful, the degrees of reverse psychology unquantifiable, and the extent to which it can be taken as critique or any declarative statement at all is entirely unclear.
But Gobby’s quasi-subversions manage to seem incidental to his musicality, more a disorienting side effect of his dedication to whimsy than a direct attack on perceived inauthenticities. Wallet and Cell Phone is music that’s meant to be listened to, maybe even danced to, and it hypnotizes, envelops, and bangs with all the gusto one could demand from any (other) techno diversion. Just try not to look it straight in the eyes; they might skeeze you out.