In my review of Prefuse 73's latest album Security Screenings, I wrote that it “has more moments of unchecked sonic aggression than his previous releases.” Scott Herren’s micro-edits were even more jarring than usual, and his beats often flirted with pummeling distortion. This abrasion was why I loved Screenings so much; some of my friends, though, had trouble getting into it. Why am I telling you this? Well, after listening to Yea Big’s debut album The Wind That Blows the Robot’s Arms, I’ve resolved never to play it for any of those friends. It basically sounds like Prefuse 73 gone retarded, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, anyone who thinks that Security Screenings was a tough listen will feel like their ears are getting raped by a power drill by the time The Wind’s first track ends.
Yea Big is the alias of 23-year-old Stefen Robinson, a Chicago laptop artist who has previously collaborated with Brad of the Mae Shi. That band’s collage-like approach to sequencing and titling is all over The Wind. Three consecutive songs are titled “Elegant as Fuck.” Together, they ebb and flow like a single seven-minute track, which makes the indexing rather superfluous. Another three-song suite boasts two tracks titled “Nice People Are Those Who Have Nasty Minds,” between which appears an interlude called “The Same Stupid Shit, Only Faster.” This interlude lives up to its name by being — you guessed it — a faster version of “Nice People...” Full-length tracks are book-ended by snippets of digital flatulence and, in the case of “Bruce, You Have to Recognize,” backwards versions of themselves. All tolled, The Wind That Blows the Robot’s Arms runs through 25 tracks in 50 minutes. Neither the good ideas nor the bad ones (and there are plenty of both) get to stick around for long.
What makes Yea Big sound like “Prefuse 73 gone retarded” is Stefen’s refusal to harness his micro-edits into anything resembling a melody. “But We Will Try Nonetheless” sounds like someone flicking a radio deal back and forth between stations to a simple rhythm. “Nice People...” begins with the queasiest acoustic guitar playing I’ve heard since Tetuzi Akiyama’s Pre-Existence; only during the song’s second half do the guitars achieve consonance. The synthesizers on “It Will Be Tasteful” start out sounding pleasant, but get louder and more dissonant as the song progresses. I can almost visualize the LED levels in the mastering room slowly turning fire red when I listen to it. Even on “Exaggeration Run Amok,” which imitates the backwards bells of Prefuse’s “Point to B,” the bass line is completely out of tune with the rest of the music, which keeps the song firmly grounded in atonality. The closest that Stefen’s music comes to being pretty is on “Increaseth Wisdom Increases Sorrow,” which is based on a simple dulcimer loop.
Whereas Herren slices and dices voices in order to exploit their tonal and melodic properties, Stefen uses the voice as a percussive instrument. In laymen’s terms, Herren focuses on vowels and Stefen focuses on consonants (see “Touch You or Touch Them” for proof). Stefen also loves speeding his voices up until they’re completely unintelligible. “My Principles Far Outweigh My Common Sense” sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks having a freestyle cipher on top of a Squarepusher track. For a laptop artist, Stefen is enamored with sound effects that are primarily associated with analog equipment. On many songs, he runs his samples through the kind of intermittent flickering that you’d usually hear on a demagnetized cassette. Other songs are interrupted by squeals and squelches that sound like reels being violently rewound.
The almost complete absence of melody or discernible vocals in Yea Big’s music makes The Wind That Blows the Robot’s Arms a hard sell for anyone who likes their glitch served in small doses. If you were one of the few people who considered Security Screenings easy listening, though, this album should satisfy you. Bring some Q-tips, though, because you’ll need them.
Artist Website: www.yeabig.com
Label Website: www.jibdoor.com