For Mad Men Only (Reservoir Sound)
Cult Favorite‘s album For Mad Men Only, a trip-hop collaboration between Brooklyn rapper Elucid and New York noise-experimentalist A.M. Breakups, is simply challenging.
I want to say, “Don’t listen to this album.” As its title suggests, For Mad Men Only might be reserved for the craziest listeners willing to endure the album’s length multiple times over just to glean some satisfaction. But in truth, Cult Favorite’s difficulty allows them to transcend the space where easier music can be left and forgotten. Beneath the layers of its cacophonous surface, there is a rich conceptual core. If Ghostface Killah’s Twelve Reasons to Die is hip-hop’s vintage Italian horror-film score, then For Mad Men Only is trip-hop’s transmission from a film set in our own dystopian future. Producer A.M. Breakups seems to draw inspiration from foundational trip-hop artists like DJ Shadow and Blockhead, making use of found audio and horn samples layered over breakbeats.
Eschewing a more recognizable trip-hop sound, A.M. Breakups makes greater use of synthesized sweeps, bit-crushed sine waves, and glitched and modulated rings, while heavily compressing and filtering the rest. Each track becomes a landscape of honest noise. His melodies emulate the songs lost between switching radio stations, where only a few looped, sometimes arrhythmic, elements carry the listener from start to finish. Though A.M. Breakups’ part in the Cult Favorite collaboration comes from an untouchable sonic future, the message of its lyric content from Elucid is disarmingly contemporary.
Like a loud genius student sitting in the back of class, Elucid is the album’s real trouble-maker; each song is a snarky comment, a joke, a puzzle, and an intelligent message rolled into one swift phrase. Throughout the album, he condemns every social system as oppressive means for one person to gain over another’s loss. There are no leaders, only “misleaders who speak with forked tongue” and “sheep who follow for fortune.” Whether a situation stems from the political, the racial, or the sexual, the world Elucid sees is disgusting. It’s as hard to accept as his words are, at times, hard to understand; so much is metaphoric or allusive that I only get the idea of his message rather than the message itself. Still, the fire-spitting sage borrows enough phrasing from the culture that it never feels totally distant. Phrases like “proceed with caution,” “turn the other cheek,” and “ain’t no such thing” (which would finish “as halfway crooks”—a shout to Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones: Pt 2”) keep me invested as a listener as I continue to dig into his often poetic rhetoric.
Don’t listen to this album if you can’t spare a mile in the troubled shoes of a difficult life perspective. Perhaps that advice ultimately aligns with Cult Favorite’s goal: to be noisy and cryptic so that their only investors are those seeking new truths and not dollar signs.