It’s a testament to the strength of the first Wise Blood EP, `+`, that despite finishing in fewer than ten minutes, it managed to garner Chris Laufman’s nascent recording project considerable attention and anticipation. Less gimmicky than Girl Talk and harder edged than Washed Out, Laufman’s first few collages of samples were somehow both crisp and hazy, thundering and nonchalant. Unfortunately, it’s almost entirely the promise of Wise Blood’s self-released debut makes its follow-up, These Wings, worthy of discussion.
Early Wise Blood efforts, such as “Here Comes the Sun,” and “B.I.G. E.G.O.,” buried Laufman’s speech-singing bravado in densely layered loops of iconic samples. His piercing tenor was scarcely more privileged than any other sounds, including a variety of reappropriated voices. On These Wings, by contrast, Laufman is a full-blown MC, though not quite a rapper.He’s too snarling to sing but too couldn’t-be-bothered to flow.
If that were the worst development, These Wings would still be well worth hearing. Alas, putting Laufman’s vocals front and center is not an isolated change. Rather, it’s structurally tied to a more wholesale transition: a shift from tightly controlled electronic swagger to sprawling, vampiric sing-song rap. In place of “Strt Srns” and its glorious combination of percussive snaps and high pitched vocal samples, we find whiny, keyboard-driven pseudo ballads like “Darlin’ You’re Sweet” and “Loud Mouths.” To the extent that we follow Laufman’s now somewhat discernible words, his casually antisocial and misogynistic sentiments throw salt in our wounds. There are sporadic moments of musical inspiration — the melodic refrain and crisp closing backbeat of “Nosferatu” and the barrelhouse piano of “Loud Mouths” come to mind — but ultimately the grime is too thick to sift.
The most unattractive aspect of rap rock (broadly construed) is almost certainly the much-maligned hybrid genre’s tendency to slide from rambunctious fun to melodramatic angst. Licensed to Ill and “Walk This Way” may be comically dated, but they could never begin to inspire the distaste that self-respecting music listeners do and ought to feel toward say, Linkin Park (with or without Jay-Z’s assistance). Here’s hoping the budding electronic rap rock of shout-singing sampler Chris Laufman will prove more than simply another case in point.