Album Review: Negashi Armada - Commodify The Moon, Militarise Heaven, Compromise Love, Gentrify Hell
Near the beginning of the second track on his cumbersomely titled Commodify The Moon, Militarise Heaven, Compromise Love, Gentrify Hell, Negashi Armada plainly states, “This ain’t a regular type of thing, alright? This is a visionary, transformative destiny we’re talking about.” That is roughly the easiest way to describe it—spanning 19 tracks, running over an hour, and assembled as one seamless mp3 (or YouTube video, as it were), the rapper formerly known as Bluntfang has returned with the follow up to the most excellent (and bizarre) 2015 release, Coarse Light II.
Performing under a different moniker now, the long gestating effort is, as one familiar with Armada and his work should expect, is a fascinating experience; and from beginning to end, it is as excellent if not more so than its predecessor, and equally, if not more, bizarre and unsettling.
As he did on previous releases, Commodify The Moon is a place, where, like, a million different things converge. The effort as a whole boasts a strong lo-fi aesthetic, as well as a brash, punk attitude; musically, one minute, it’s smooth, the next it’s dreamy and gauzy—I mean, he did sample the Cocteau Twins on Coarse Light II, and here, much to my surprise, he raps over a loop from the Red House Painters’ “Katy Song.”
So yes, it can be smooth and dreamy or at least weird in a charming way; but the next minute, it’s confrontational and abrasive. This album is the dark alley where pop music and ‘real art’ meet—I dare you to find another performer making the kind of fearless, difficult, and captivating music that Armada is making.
The only other rap music oddball that comes to mind immediately is Lil’ B—but Lil’ B, bless his heart, is entirely too self aware; his Based God caricature is certainly charming, but the gimmick is always at risk of collapsing under its on weight. Commodify The Moon is a record that has moments of humor, but they are subtle, and they are extraordinarily dark—Armada thrives on creating an unnerving and dissonant tension that has little, if any, resolve.
Intended to be listened to from start to finish, the album can get to be a little daunting and overwhelming, simply because of how unrelenting it is. Songs often begin and end with what can only be described as a collision, and the deeper you get into it, the more difficult it becomes to know where you are within the tracklist.
While it is a labor intensive process, Commodify The Moon does benefit from being edited and converted into individual tracks—splitting it up does allow a little bit of ease on the listener who may not be ready for Armada’s immersive aesthetic; but it also allows the listener who is ready to spend a little more time with each song on an individual basis in order to pick up on all the subtleties embedded.
In my review of Coarse Light II, I made a slight comparison to Tricky—specifically, Tricky’s claustrophobic masterpiece, 1996’s Pre-Millennium Tension. That comparison still sticks—even more so now, maybe, because of the sprawling nature of Commodify The Moon, as well as the off kilter, jittering feeling in a number of these songs, like the skittish “Sweeety,” and the cavernous, swirling ‘This Time.”
Every track is, for the most part, drastically different than the one that preceded it—but even with all its shifts, Armada is able to maintain overall cohesion, even without repeating ideas. The only thing that he does regularly return to, with much success, is his penchant for sampling and interpolating dreamy, swooning sounding background tracks. This comes as no surprise, considering he had used the ‘shoegaze’ tag on his Soundcloud page a number of years ago. But in doing this, especially on “Perspective,” the late arriving track that samples “Katy Song,” Armada creates a surprising juxtaposition; one that, on paper, seems like it would be an absolute fucking disaster. However, in the hands of someone as capable as this, it’s brilliant.
Armada assumes a number of different performing styles throughout Commodify The Moon—at times, he delivers his lyrics in an exaggerated, spoken word style—he is, more or less, a performance artist if you get right down to it. He also can legitimately rap when he wants to, slipping into that on the album’s opening track, “Can I Live?,” as well as on “The Hard R.” Both of those tracks, as well as a number of others, is where Armada uses his third style—singing.
And here’s the thing—I’m not a singer. I don’t know how; I can’t hold a note, I can’t carry a tune. I don’t know how to use my voice to do any of those things, but I do know when somebody is a little off, or not quite hitting the note they are trying to reach. Armada, well, he’s not a singer. But he tries. He really puts himself out there, and while it does come off some of the time as flat (I’m guessing that’s the point though) it is admirable that he’s brave enough to record himself trying.
I think that, at this point, it goes without saying that Commodify The Moon, Militarise Heaven, Compromise Love, Gentrify Hell is an absolutely unique and wild ride. Not every song works—but not every song needs to; and when they do work, it’s truly something to behold. It’s brimming with exuberance and imagination, and without a doubt, there’s nothing else like Negashi Armada happening right now in any genre of music.
Commodify The Moon, Militarise Heaven, Compromise Love, Gentrify Hell is available to stream via Negashi Armada's YouTube page.