Tuesday, May 17, 2011

REVIEW: Big Pauper - Beyond My Means

Big Pauper - Beyond My Means

There’s a genius to finding harmony in seemingly incongruent sounds; there’s a kaleidoscopic vision to the mind’s ear that sees not differences but rather links between what most of us perceive as wholly different. It’s one thing to do this with a group of songs popularized in our culture (a la Girl Talk), but it’s something entirely different – not to mention almost mind-bending – when audio ripped from TV and film enters the fold.

Like experimental sound collage band Negativland before him, Portland’s Big Pauper recontextualizes a vast array of sounds culled from old records and his absolutely massive VHS collection. On his solo debut, Beyond My Means, art of the past is reborn as fresh and relevant content – whether it’s fragments of old songs or old TV/film dialogue from obscure sources (Portuguese horror, nunsploitation, etc.). Working with sound outside the realm of music, Big Pauper is like the avant-garde version of Girl Talk, turning an eclectic mix of media into a unified, harmonious whole. There’s something rather mesmerizing about the man’s ability to create songs almost exclusively out of VHS audio clips and vinyl rips, finding melody within the diversity of the source material.

Beyond My Means could certainly act as a background soundtrack, but that negates the power that lies deep within its sonic fabric; this isn’t a plain, old white t-shirt, this is the finest Egyptian cotton, 1,000 thread count bed sheet. It’s a deep, compelling statement on our culture’s overindulgence, disillusionment, and obsession with the superficial – or the allegiance to media-centric values. Whether it’s talk of violence, money, or sex, Big Pauper finds a way to create a sound collage that captures the beauty and darkness that frame our culture’s character. Our world is so crowded, and cluttered, with advertisements and a prismatic, ever-changing paradigm of how to go about living life well (i.e. successfully) – a world that Big Pauper constructs through the hypnotic undertow and druggy haze of psych.

Despite the album’s detailed network of samples and loops, Beyond My Means maintains a definitive sound that would best be described as sci-fi/horror electronic hip hop chamber soul: sci-fi/horror for its cinematic roots; electronic for its use of programmed beats and multi-layered construction; hip hop for its heavy use of sampling; chamber for the moments of ‘60s chamber pop; and soul for its samples that reveal moments of human emotion and struggle to find the hope for a better tomorrow.

There are a few tracks to highlight here, but Beyond My Means is really an album that is strongest when digested as a whole. Opener “Blue Dawn” centers around a sample of ‘60s chamber pop cut up with lyrical grabs from what sound like old soul records; all the while, an ominous, near menacing bass line slides along underneath it all. The following track and first single, “The Stale Breath of 1000 Lucrative Club Bangers,” epitomizes the theme and aim of the record, showcasing Big Pauper’s innate ability to mix what would otherwise be a cacophonous collection of audio clips into something with direction and meticulously constructed rhythm. It’s a mixtape that houses the echoes of our culture’s past and present, as reflected through the media. “Big Sick” sounds almost as if it were a druggy reimagining of some Eastern Religion’s music with its layers of hand drums and warped strings. “The Simple Life (Sequel)” features a montage of quotes that deal with sex, love, relationships, and madness, cast over a track of glitchy samples and a quiet but haunting arrangement of violin.

Beyond My Means is one wild, weird, and excellent adventure. It’s fun but also smart. It manages to comment on our media-driven world without relying on lyrics. Big Pauper turns this media on itself, like a mirror reflecting back the ugly image of what our culture is capable of creating. It’s important to point out that the album is not at all overbearing in its message or utterly bleak in mood, but it’s undoubtedly something that calls for reflection. Deep within the cloud of psych, there are signs of light and hope that prove Beyond My Means is a rewarding listen that reveals itself through layers of thought-provoking tones, samples, and choice quotes. It all ends with a man saying, “This nightmare is over,” and, by the end, you certainly feel like this was less an album and more an inspiring experience – or an honest journey through this world.

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LISTEN: Big Pauper - Beyond My Means

Watch the video for "The Stale Break of 1000 Lucrative Club Bangers" to actually see the source material for the track. It's amazing to see how Big Pauper spliced up so many different things into one single entity.

Big Pauper's Beyond My Means is out now on Circle Into Square. Pick it up on Amazon, iTunes, direct from Circle Into Square, or from your local independent record shop.

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