Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting Undone Harmony Following

[Type; 2017]

Styles: hellish hip-hop, anamorphosis, distortion
Others: Einstürzende Neubauten, Lil Ugly Mane

Elephant in the room: Yes, the DJ Screw comparison is inevitable, and yes, a simile along the lines of “Undone Harmony Following is like a Screw tape unearthed from the rubble of a boiler room explosion” would be apt. However, aside from playing with pitch sliders and taste for bottomless bass, the sonic similarities are limited. Instead, we should direct our focus towards DJ Screw’s conceptual legacy.

Venus and Adonis, after Simon Vouet, Netherlands 18th Century. From Anamorphic Art, J. Baltrušaitis

To my eyes, reality deserves distortion. I will make no attempt to disguise my love of the grotesque and the technologies that make us so. The very least art can do for us is to allow things to be seen in a new way, and if that requires stretching and warping and molding them beyond recognition, so be it.

The disc-tortions Screw performed were anamorphic. His syrup-slow remixes were pitched abyssal, as if to create a distorted sound that could be set straight in the warp of a codeine trip. Like those images that only seem right when reflected in the back of spoon, the music maps perfectly to a universe of non-Euclidean sounds, and it was incumbent on his listener to enter into that monstrous cosmos. DJ Screw’s approach re-interrogated the crucial epistemological tension: to what degree does reality create perception and perception reality?

The real question is, as it always is, tainted by our own normative assumptions. To have a distortion, we must have a clarity, but from whence is this clarity delivered? We premise clarity as our own baseline, unaffected perceptions, though the danger of that is Kleistian: “If all men had green glasses instead of eyes, they would be led to say that all objects they see are green. […] We cannot determine if what we call truth is really truth or whether it only seems so.” Kleist, of course, followed this logic to the barrel of his own pistol.

However, if we undid our devotion to clarity as the bottom of experience and harmony as the guiding principle of the universe, we may reframe them as a distortion equal to distortion, Screw’s mixtape mangling is not the nullity of escapism, but the constitution of an epistemological position unburdened. Not so much an inquiry into the ding-an-sich, but a shrug of the shoulders and an honestly asked “what does it matter?” The material being twisted and repurposed is already distorted beyond comprehension, and attempts toward clarity recompose those things as much as distortion decomposes them.

Clarity is the myth of Enlightenment while distortion the fantasia of subjectivity.

Pat Maherr, the hands behind Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting, likewise seems to reject things as they are presented to him. As Indignant Senility, he collapses Western classical into a vantablack hole, and in Diamond Catalog, he crushes contemporary dance styles to dust. Wearing his Yo-Yo Dieting hat, hip-hop is his target, and Maherr obliterates with gusto. Undone Harmony Following continues his crusade against the untarnished and deceivingly clear.

As with his previous EYYD issue, 2010’s Bubblethug, his touch is heavy, and his treatments render his tracks lugubrious. Bloated near bursting, Undone revels in colliding its boosted bass with busted rhythms and strangled vocals. On “Prince Severance,” our rapper incognito weathers the buffeting percussion, her bars sundered by the intrusion of samples so warped that half of them read as abstract shocks of noise. “Jest Jokin” features raps pitched down past Tartarus. Compared to the voices trapped herein, Spark Master Tape might as well be Pavarotti.

The cuts swallow themselves, make themselves mangled and ravaged. Sludgy and ugly, each track is quagmired and festering. They perpetuate their own ruination; they are more than comfortable with succumbing to sheer hellish miasma.

Hellish isn’t a poor marker here. Where DJ Screw was happy enough to bend and malleate Southern Hip-Hop, Maherr seeks to pervert and corrupt. By and large, the title cut is just a rumbling cloud of bass and percussion laying waste to its listeners, only to elide into the staticky squelch that constitutes “Vortex of Affluence.” He destroys, and he heaps together all the scrap, atomizing all of the typical signifiers of the genre and reimagines them in demoniac form.

Most production and most producers seek to impose a perfection upon the thing that does not belong to it. In an attempt to recreate something that was uncreated in the first place, we have studio setups that promise perfect recording and headphones that tout crystalline highs, booming lows, and rich harmonic color. It’s all myth, and it’s all artifice, but artifice that pretends toward being real and absolute. Ortega y Gasset, in writing about Diego Velázquez, claims that the real difference between reality and myth is that myth may be finished, it may be presented to us as a clear and complete vision of the world.

DJ Screw and his many inheritors deny this totalizing mythopoesis, but instead choose to embrace the arbitrariness of their world, its essential incompleteness, and use it to erect new worlds fashioned from the very same base material as the myth. In framing clarity as a false authority and choosing to engage with the messiness of our perception, distortion creates a new category of reality, teratical to those that can’t share its vision.

We can call this anamorphosis. The image at the top of this review is the same as the image at the bottom. The only difference is distortion. Jorge Luis Borges in his early writings in support of ultraísmo defines for us two aesthetics:

the passive aesthetic of mirrors and the active aesthetic of prisms. Guided by the first, art transforms itself into a copy of its objective environment or history of an individual’s psyche. Guided by the second, art redeems itself, turning the world into its instrument, and forging — so far beyond the prisons of space and time — its personal vision.

It is this latter aesthetic that we see in Maherr’s work and in the work of the luminary who inspired such a wave of productive deconstruction. Maherr tears the world apart and reshapes it into an image incomprehensible to the objective environment. Undone Harmony Following, instead, feels like a call to replace our straight-backed, unadventurous mirrors with something more prismatic and distorted, something more interesting than any myth of clarity.



Simon Vouet: Venus and Adonis, engraving by Dorigny, 1638. From Anamorphic Art, J. Baltrušaitis


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