The margins of popular music are filled with stylistic misfits; square pegs whose music doesn’t fit nicely into the round holes of convention. Much like the individuals of Huxley’s “Brave New World,” who are unable to function within the boundaries of a tightly controlled society and as a result are banished to remote island communities, talented artists who don’t subscribe to mainstream orthodoxy are often relegated to the musical sidelines.
This principle might explain why Jarid Catrenich, aka Angle, one of Des Moines’ most unique and longest-standing veteran MCs, remains something of a shadowy figure in the local hip-hop consciousness. Though he has abundant skill and a sizeable, consistent catalog, it seems his style is just quirky enough to run askew of the casual listener’s ear. His latest release provides a fresh opportunity to take a look at his approach and assess its merits.
On his new EP, Angle assumes the persona of “White Andy” and pays tribute to the spirit of fun and creativity that characterized hip-hop’s Golden Era. That spirit is on display in the Vaudeville-styled cover art that features Angle in top hat, tuxedo, and “reverse blackface,” and its influence is felt in the music as well.
The opening track, “Blazee,” begins in typical oddball fashion with a cartoonish intro followed by a Spanish announcer introducing “Angleoneous Maximus” and producer Coolzey. The song is breezy and upbeat, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Next is a great track titled “Hiyah.” This song was the first to appear from “White Andy” when its pirate and Renaissance-themed video was released last spring. Angle’s flow is in good form over the relaxed beat, and he croons the chorus over a layer of female vocals that sing “White Andy.”
The program takes a slight turn with “Abysses.” Coolzey lays drowsy strings over an interesting snare drum pattern, and Angle leads us down a hall of scary movie horrors replete with ghosts, serial killers, and monsters under children’s beds. A guest vocalist listed as “The Pleaser” delivers an ominous chorus, warning, “they’re coming for you . . . “ On “Chinee,” Angle takes aim at shortsighted MCs who are more interested in freestyle fame than building a solid body of work. (“I feel you’re haunted by the ghost of Eyedea past.”)
The centerpiece of the EP is “Farns,” a posse cut that showcases Felix Thunder, D Average and Toby Diligent of prettygirlhatemachine, Tremayne, Ryan Nixon and Mic L of Neon Current, and ends with a verse by Coolzey. Though it’s the longest track on the album, “Farns” has one of those beats I could listen to for days, and as a result it feels like it ends far too quickly. “Rocket,” finds Angle playing the role of an aging rap superhero pondering his relevance and his purpose in the ever-changing world of rap music. There’s an interesting contrast here between subject matter and presentation; the lyrics deal with artistic self-reflection, but the music is light-hearted and playful. That contrast is indicative of the overall balance of this project, and despite its relatively short run time, it’s a varied and interesting listen.
“White Andy” comes to a twisted conclusion with the song “Spookster.” Written as a series of journals entries, it tells the story of a group of people stranded in the mountains after an avalanche buries their cabin. When the food runs out and the pipes freeze, the song’s protagonist has to resort to drastic measures to try to survive. Even on a track so morbid Angle can’t seem to resist throwing in a quick dash of odd, self-deprecating humor at the last minute, leaving on the same note that he arrived.
The peculiarity of Angle’s music is largely due to his deadpan, irreverent, and at times, dark sense of humor. There’s plenty of comedy on “White Andy,” but he also shows a willingness to indulge his imagination and work with unusual subject matter. This combination might not resonate with everyone, but it can be very rewarding for the listener who values the unique and the unexpected over the familiar.