Album Reviews

Beans – Shock City Maverick

(warp) UK release date: 18 October 2004

There may be 57 varieties in a Heinz can, but in Hip-Hop there is only one Beans. Once of the art-fringey Anti-Pop Consortium, Beans’ own brand is served with measured spoonfuls of stark electronica, the crunchiest of programmed beats, and an unfolding series of rhymes that hope to back-up his self-proclaimed boast to be “the Ornette Coleman of this rap shit”.

Shock City Maverick is Beans’ second solo shot, and, sonically speaking, it’s as clean and mean as its predecessor, Tomorrow Right Now. Favouring textures that are closer to Derrick May than Dre, more Model 500 than 50 Cent, more Plastikman than Method Man, Beans isn’t recording for Warp by accident.

Besides the obligatory MC goading (like Shards Of Glass’ playground chants “MC’s don’t like my stylin’ / Cause’ they can’t do no better”) most of the Beanster’s raps are as abstract as the digital burblings that snake around the virtually functional beats. That is unless there’s anyone out there that feels a line like “My hip-hop is hopscotch / with peg leg unfurl / mandible rifle-rattling tongue” is their cup of formalism.

Most will find that Beans’ raps work better as sound than as a set of transcribed meanings, or, if you prefer, than what actually Beanz meanz. Often you feel there’s something scary underneath the surfaces of this record (particularly the shadowy City Hawk), and the truth is out there, to be deciphered between the dizzying raps.

There is a sense of urban alienation (that old chestnut) in the space between the grooves, but also a deeper aura of bemused isolation freakily redolent of Kool Keith‘s Dr. Octagon incarnation, without the spaced cowboy psychedelics. Unexpected sounds reveal themselves on repeated plays, like the zombie-funk guitar on Papercut and the squelchy-scratches on the austere landscape of City Hawk.

Capable of brewing a bewildering storm of verbal wordage, Beans isn’t afraid to keep it schtum occasionally and let the music be the storyteller. The clangourous chime of You’re Dead, Lets Disco built on an undulating series of looped church bells is an earworm of a rhythm, while the sinister landscape of A Force On Edge is how the Radiophonic Workshop might have sounded if the BBC had recruited from black America rather than gleaming Oxbridge spires.

Down By Law is, I guess, the obvious single, but only because its “In the air / in the air like this / wave your hands in the air like this” chorus is almost the only thing on the record that is anything like a sop to commerciality. The Mark Pritchard (Global Communication) produced Diamond Halo Grenade might have been a better bet, but I could swear I’ve heard the same car-plant beat on Clipse’s Grindin just last year.

For the most part though, Shock City Maverick is Hip-Hop, Jim, but not as we know it. As likely to please beard-stroking types who live on a musical diet of pure electronic dissonance (come on, we know you’re out there) as it is the international Hip-Hop community, Beans and Shock City Maverick is as close as anyone in Rap right now who’s still checking out that bothersome cutting edge.

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Beans – Shock City Maverick