by Chris Godsey
March 12, 2007
Chris Godsey reviews recent releases from the north.
Ray the Wolf
Ray the Wolf
These seven ethereal, angular art pop (or at least pop-influenced) songs are well-produced, expertly executed, and an almost perfect combination of drummer and leader Zac Bentz's multiple musical personalities.
In the math-rock band Both, he's all precise angles and shifting rhythms; with the State Champs (see Christine Dean's recent review
), he's like any other steady, straight-ahead, bang-bang-bang-bang-quick-roll-cymbal-crash, pop drummer; as Xaq, of Xeromusic, he's a mad computer chemist, creating blips and beeps and something the kids these days are calling IDM (intelligent dance music--as opposed to the...stupid dance music?).
All those traits are represented in equal measures on The Surfactants.
Marcus Matthews' sometimes intentionally atonal, arrhythmic (and sometimes dreamily swooping) vocals are layered in echo and other effects. Electronic pings and whooshes and laser shots slice and drop in among loud, fast, jerky instrumentation. Some beats are completely programmed. Others are combinations of live and electronic instruments.
The whole thing sounds like a very smart, successful experiment in computer-driven genre mashing. It won't be pleasant, relaxing listening for most people, but odds are it's not supposed to be.
Ray the Wolf
If Slug of Atmosphere worked at Duluth's Whole Foods Co-Op, lived with his wife and toddler in the city's West End, grew up in a Bob Dylan incubator on Lake Superior's North Shore, and had a penchant for old-school hip-hop with tightly defined verses and sing-along choruses, he'd be Ray the Wolf.
Wolf writes songs like "Cereal Bowl," warning listeners about genetically modified foods--"What's that floating in your cereal bowl? / GMOs, it's GMOs! / Who's making money when we buy what we're told? / CEOs, that C-E-O! / Why do we like cheap food, cause it's cheap? / We don't know, no, we don't know! / Let's pay the proper price for the food that we eat / But we're too poor!"
Over engaging, substantive beats, he's cleverly observant and self-deprecating and straight-up bragadocious, like in "MN Viking": "I should read more books and watch TV less / Even PBS can feed me B.S. / I'm still cool if you see me stressed / Play me for a fool you can be my guest...just don't call me no tree hugger / or you'll see a nice guy turn mean mugger / I'll say I don't love you like your mean mother / there's only one Ray Wolf there can't be another."
Wolf was once in the hip-hop group Crew Jones with Mic Trout, who mixed Five Bucks,
and Burly Burlesque. Their three-way flow was unique and engaging both live and on the 2004 record Who's Beach
(which was named after a Grand Marais beach, which was named after a guy named Who), but Crew Jones as a duo and Ray the Wolf solo seems to make more stylistic sense.
While many great hip-hop groups have included MCs of various flavors--Q-Tip and Pfife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest; the Wu-Tang Clan's original nine members; the Pharcyde; and many others--Wolf's straightforward lyrics and delivery Trout's and Burlesque's more arty, impressionistic abstractions seemed disparate. Together, they seemed like two intelligent acts doing different cool things in the same space, not necessarily three guys who shared a perspective or sense of purpose.
Wolf addresses the split in "D.I.Y.," and he seems OK with the way things are: "I left the group and small shit came between us / it seemed big then but right now it doesn't mean much / since then I've dreamed of making more drum beats / just to show the world that Ray the Wolf can still compete / Why bother? I known where I stand / Even if there's only one guy in my band."