“We’ll always be hungry and pointing fingers
but in the end we should have been building skyscrapers”
Anti-commercial, anti-pop, Anticon icon Sole first offered these words of wisdom almost a decade ago on “Bottle of Humans.” Judging by the artwork for “Plastique” he finally got his wish, although his skyscrapers are an alien landscape of monolithic emeralds grown to the desired size and shape for habitation. One gets the feeling they would surpass the Empire State Building in height up close, but to actually visit them you would have to stride into the artwork of an Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury album. In fact the figure on the cover staring at the Emerald City before him is no Tin Woodman or Scarecrow; he is an Illustrated Man with a story to tell us all. That’s been Sole’s modus operandi his whole career – look at him and listen with either awe or disgust (makes no difference to him) as he unravels the fabric of traditional rap music and weaves into a coat that may fit him alone and no one else.
“You hold a mirror to a junkyard and call it an airport
In today’s economy man, we don’t need airports
We need real talk, y’all pick that low-hanging fruit
And when the revolution comes, man I know who to shoot”
“Pissing in the Wind” may be the easiest of Sole’s tales on “Plastique” for the uninitiated to follow, but even the brew of this song gives you an intoxicated feeling of the whole world spinning around you. The instrumentation by William Ryan Fritch brings together an orchestra of beauty and supercollides it with an overpowering distorted drumbeat from John Wagner. These men are the Skyrider Band, giving our protagonist Tim Holland a/k/a Sole the lift he needs to weave his way through the crystalline skyline. Go in either direction from “Pissing in the Wind,” forward or backward, and events become harder to comprehend. Snippets of lyrics break through an intense sonic experience, occasionally rhyming or making sense, leaving one to wonder what it is Sole is really trying to say. When you do understand it, there’s no comfort in the knowledge that you get it. Songs like “Bait” are intentionally grim and uncompromising:
“How’d I survive? I threw myself to the winds
And when I was hungry, I used my soul for bait
‘Til my lungs were filled
with the blood of men and women who never made it this far
I used them all for bait, I used myself for bait
You have no faith, no faith
Only that of a stone in space”
This may be the Sole our protagonist was trying to distill from his “Bottle of Humans” all along – the man who confidently strides forward on “Children of Privilege” to declare “please don’t shoot me, I’m already dead/What’s in the pistol? I hope it’s loaded with bread.” The music almost captures his madness but even without a Skyrider Band, Sole remains a poet who just barely fits into the hip-hop genre, abandoning any pretense of following in the well-tred traditions of braggadocio or social commentary; eschewing keeping it real and keeping it fake to keep it strange. Songs like “Battlefields” and “Mr. Insurgent” imply that Sole is locked into a futuristic war for his very survival, but as his very name implies, it is a singular journey he alone travels which we observe from a distance.
The purest art may be that which created only to be fully understood by its creator, but the noisy cacophony of “Plastique” is equal parts intriguing and frustrating. “I started digging my grave at age 15/my work won’t be done until I reach China.” So sayeth Sole, a man content to be alone, yet seemingly driven with desire to share his music with the world. The contradiction is compelling yet only fans of his previous work will want to take on the challenge. The greatest joy of a Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov novel is that they tell a great story yet do it in an easily accessible way. Sole is so completely inaccessible he drives away the people he seemingly wants to reach, and adding a band doesn’t enhance his product or make it more palatable. Sole doesn’t walk the line between being non-conformist and commercially appealing – he goes all the way across the line without even looking backwards once. It’s definitely art, but it’s definitely not for everyone.