Mere months following the release of BEBETUNE$’ debut mixtape inhale C-4 $$$$$, James Ferraro was back in a different guise, this time as BODYGUARD, with a whole new genre exercise prepped for immediate mass consumption as a free download. Silica Gel veered off from inhale C-4 in that, thankfully, Ferraro’s dalliance with hip-hop and R&B club culture was a short-lived one. (I say “thankfully,” but if you read my review of it, you’ll know I wavered back and forth on its relevance and/or quality, and came to very few solid conclusions. I was along for the ride, as it were.) Instead, the new mix hovered in icy, mellowed-out electronic territory, pretty much an actual chillwave album if there ever was one.
I asked all my genre questions about inhale, so I’m not going to rehash the debate here as to why Ferraro went down this particular path at this particular time, but I do want to mention that he’s set aside his BEBETUNE$ alter ego to focus on BODYGUARD, and word has it that there’s an album in the works for release later this summer, so… get ready for that I guess. Fine, I’ll stop being so halfhearted about it: new BODYGUARD dudes! #HIGHFIVE
BODYGUARD traverses a somewhat mellower path than BEBETUNE$ did, although neither is terribly rambunctious. Ferraro embraces the post-club/high-end late-night party vibe of designer liquor and drugs, and masks it in a sleek haze (oxymoron alert?) of neon in a misty rain. Yeah, he’s still peddling synthesized drama, and it’s the arms length at which he keeps his listeners that is somewhat annoying, as if we’re stuck behind a velvet rope at his soire. The tones are cold and distant, the emotions resemble those of models selling cologne or vodka or watches or automobiles in ads dripping with narcissistic sexuality. Or maybe it resembles the type of music a hyper-advanced robotic intelligence born from self-realization would consider that humans would have enjoyed if they were still around to enjoy it. Like what Skynet would pump over the airwaves, or the I Am Robot … robots … would create. (I just referenced Schwarzenegger and Will Smith in one sentence – somehow I think Ferraro would appreciate that.)
The bridge from BEBETUNE$ to BODYGUARD is intact, though, immediately with the perplexing acronym “H.U.M2.E.R.,” which, I have to admit, I have a hard time getting out of my head. It’s not that it’s got an earworm hook, but a robotic voice repeats the acronym, mantralike, for over seven minutes. It’s like a meditation – all I need is prayer beads and I’m off to … who knows where. But it seems that Ferraro wants to remind us that we’ve been to inhale C-4 $$$$$ and back, we’ve seen club culture (or something), as a sample of “Yeah baby, yeah baby, yeah” is injected before the acronym is repeated anew. I got easily bored with “H.U.M2.E.R.” at first, but it grew on me. I wish I could say the same about “RAIDEN – BLUE LIGHTS # NZT – 48,” an autotuned nodder that grows annoying with repetition, or “FATAL,” similarly long and uneventful.
I guess this is all somewhat surprising given the (relative) packaging, with songs titled in all caps and hashtagged and ready for social media, a seeming attempt by Ferraro to dictate what topics he’d like to see trending on Twitter – maybe a grasp at some illusory “I did that” power. Or maybe it’s a critique of it – I continually ask that question of Ferraro and don’t really get too far out of the middle by way of response. I can’t help but think this is a ploy to sell his mindset, to propagate his worldview of a worldview, as it were, a popularity contest within a bubble. It’s like he wants to be part of the world he sees in those slick ads mentioned above, like “BLACK AND RED” is a new type of martini concoction that all the pretty people just have to have. It’s a song as slogan, meant as a talking point rather than a pleasant listening experience. It’s got a slinky and ultimately pleasant groove, with a woman periodically intoning the title of the song through a slightly distorted filter. (It actually is one of the better songs on the album.) “SEX TAPE” is another standout in this way, a cockeyed wink at our voyeuristic fascination with celebrity culture and the hollow “celebrity for the sake of celebrity” that it breeds. It also helps that the “chk-chk” of a gun chamber acts as a main rhythmic element, like M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” but here it’s an almost constant, over-the-top phenomenon that had me LOL-ing by song’s end.
But this sort of instant trend idea gets old quickly, and you’re left questioning the substance behind it. What plays as entertaining in small doses (and leaves scribes like me scratching our heads in the space of a thousand words) wanes in effect over the span of an hour or so, as the sheer humanlessness of the composition wears on the ears. BODYGUARD is nothing if not a clear and precise concoction, and that pristine-ness coupled with the lack of variation is tiring. I want this to be a vibrant, weird, and vital project, but I’m just not seeing it in Silica Gel. Maybe I’ll get it eventually. There’s a new album coming out, remember? #INTERZONE #VIBEOUT #COOLTAG #ICEBREAKER #FERRARI #ETC
RIYL: BEBETUNE$, James Ferraro, Balam Acab