(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

CD review - MC Paul Barman, Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud (2009)

MC Paul Barman hasn't release a full album since 2002's Paullelujah!, which was a masterpiece of clever rhymes, arcane references, and crazy humor. To make up for the wait, Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud has packed 22 songs into about an hour. It's a noble gesture, but not all of the material is top shelf. His stream of conscious style can be a little wearing, especially when he loses his thematic thread.

Barman has an East Coast approach to creating complex, rolling rhymes, but his delivery and subject matter are definitely all his own. A bit of a rap iconoclast, MC Paul Barman rarely tackles expectations head on. The albums starts out with Props, a call out against critics and rapper wannabes. Barman talks trash over a spare beat with a bit of detuned guitar throwing out a loose chain of notes. But the flow of his rap is key. He builds a rhyming chain of lines, all starting with "I came to collect...", like "I came to collect like crowds collect when I speak". This repetition culminates in a shot between the eyes:
Call it collect direct rather than roundabout
Before I spell it out for you, sound it out.
Boom. A strong beginning.

Another strong track is Drug Casual-T, which is effectively a personal intervention with a friend about their drug use. This stands out above a couple of other PSA type tracks (AIDS, Get Help, and maybe Circumcision Suite), in part because, after the solo, he throws in a response from his target. It's a bit of a straw man: don't be so self-righteous, you don't understand. But it's a surprise that keeps things interesting.

While Paullelujah! flirted with palindromes (in a section of Bleeding Brain Grow), Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud sets up a whole song as a double acrostic. The first letter of each word in a line spell another word (which is called out). Taking the first letter of each of these words, you get "MC Paul Barman". Obscure? Clever? Geeky? Sure, all of those are true. While I respect the effort, the end result is not particularly coherent.

My favorite line on the whole album is actually lifted from Ernie Kovacs: Television's a medium because it's neither rare nor well done. What makes it sweeter, is that the line comes in the song Sampling Law, which lyrically justifies the use of artistic sampling.

For deep fans of MC Paul Barman, you've drunk the Kool-Aid, go ahead and buy this. For newcomers, check out Paullelujah! and see if you acquire the taste. I'll have a little Kir Royale as you make up your minds.

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