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Phlegm - One Night Stands With Out of Tune Instruments in a Room With Blue Wallpaper

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Artist: Phlegm

Album: One Night Stands With Out of Tune Instruments in a Room With Blue Wallpaper

Label: three sides of a circle productions

Review date: Jun. 4, 2002

“Fuck the beat. No drums! No drums!”

Sound like hip hop to you? Well, I suppose in this day-and-age that question doesn’t really have a lot of meaning. Suffice it to say that phlegm ain’t your daddy’s boom-bap, though as with most emo-idm-hop, KRS-one could be traced as an influence. There are no drums on one-night stands with out of tune instruments in a room with blue wallpaper until 3:20 into the first track, but there is a lot of Brad Hamers’ almost painfully-introspective poetry, delivered somewhere between Guru’s slick monotone and the pedestrian’s nasal anti-flow.

In fact, the whole album could possibly be summed up by that first sans-music three minutes, in which Brad moves from the vision of his father at a funeral to something that seems vaguely relevant to the title of the track (“one night stands”), leaving only a trail of crumbs for the listener to follow, one that at times seems to have been eaten by the birds already a la Hansel and Gretel, and so the listener is left lost in the overgrown forest of Hamers’s imagination, looking for a path. Since most of the tracks on the album don’t have hooks, being rather single verses that range from three to seven minutes in length, this sense of being lost is one that I felt somewhere in the middle of just about every single song. The main problem I think is that, unlike other similarly densely poetic and hard-to-follow artists, Hamers has neither an arresting vocal style (like Dose-one), nor brilliant beats (like Aesop Rock). Sadly, this leaves what is surely fascinating poetry adrift in a sea of boredom that only the truly dedicated will have the will power to swim through.

I might be pushing things a bit far here, but it seems to me that Phlegm as a group—though Hamers’s vocals certainly define the album, as Slomoshun sticks to minimalist production when there’s any music at all—could be placed in a school of hip-hop artists that might be called “new-imagists,” in my own academic mind at least. There’s a strong emphasis on visual, often seemingly disconnected, imagery to set a scene and define a narrative—it reminds me of other Canada-rappers like kunga219, and avant-gard-ers like Dose-one, at least back in 1999-2000. Perhaps I’ll return to this topic later.

I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed this particular experiment in poetry and sound. Being a student of poetry, I’m drawn to the lyrics, but I can’t take the overly similar rather monotonous production, it’s just too much. I think I’ll read the 16-page insert, and leave the “out of tune instruments” for some braver soul to struggle through.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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