LP! is yet another refinement from JPEGMAFIA, offering his most fully realized vision and hopefully only a taste of a freer artistic future.
The music of noise rap antagonist JPEGMAFIA has often straddled the line between observer and participant: wry in its reportage of our shared pop cultural and political lexicons, while forceful enough that listening to his music can be tantamount to being physically shaken. His 2018 album Veteran was many listeners’ proper introduction to these agitations, and became something of a sleeper hit in Internet music circles, its allusions to #trending topics striking a chord at a moment during which art that pointedly commented on uncertain times possessed a high level of purchase. The album was indeed “of the moment,” though the music JPEG has released since has arguably outstripped the somewhat rigid parameters that Veteran’s then-present tense set for itself. 2019 follow-up All My Heroes are Cornballs — with its post-Blonde blend of rapping and singing, and increasingly agile, fluid production from JPEG himself — expanded his music’s emotional range beyond these shock tactics, and his two subsequent EPs expanded that range further still, presenting a bifurcation of his more accessible (EP!) and avant-garde (EP2) selves. On his latest album, LP!, JPEG is a man unified, if mainly in near-omnipresent and omnidirectional fury. Yet the continued creativity with which JPEG contorts himself and the structure of his songs prevents LP! from being a rote spectacle of aggrievement, its 20-song tracklist filled to the brim with eccentricity and self-assurance.
Somewhat notably, LP! exists in two different versions: an abbreviated “online” version released on Spotify, and a longer “offline” version released via the “pay what you want” model on Bandcamp. The “offline” LP! is the more complete effort per JPEG, who released a statement on Bandcamp in tandem with its release describing his negative experience in the music industry and desire to be “free as hell” after his label contract expires (which has occurred with the release of LP!). The note aptly sets the tone for the album proper, which — after an initial feint on glistening, skittering opener “TRUST!” — tears into its laundry list of enemies with the energy of a man possessed, burning bridges with seemingly gleeful abandon. “END CREDITS!” is one such fantasy of violence, opening with a sampled threat from AEW wrestler Arn Anderson before leading into glorious noise-rock freefall, JPEG detailing a growing body count with audible excitement. After an initial mechanized wind-up, “REBOUND!” becomes similarly volatile, its initially untargeted dismissals of presumed peers followed by laser-precise shots aimed at fellow underground favorite Armand Hammer in JPEG’s second verse (“THE GHOST OF RANKING DREAD!” further fans the flames, though both parties have reportedly squashed their beef since the release of LP!). This least-constrained version of JPEG on LP! is a captivatingly loose cannon, turning his earlier Twitter fingers into trigger fingers where specific opponents have drawn his ire, and adept as ever in his more broadly applicable intimidations on songs like “BMT!” and “DIRTY!”
Though less flashy than his verbal theatrics, JPEG’s work behind the boards on LP! is equally liberated. Condensing the form-bending qualities of Cornballs into briefer bursts, the album’s post-Internet palette of brittle industry and oddball genre exercises (produced almost in full by JPEG) makes a persuasive case for the variety of its creator’s listening habits. On muted album closer “UNTITLED!,” forlorn keys and the white noise desolation that surrounds them resembles Tim Hecker if remixed by Nosaj Thing; earlier, the surprising glitch-hop of “NEMO!” recalls Autechre at their most impish. JPEG’s more organic productions on LP! are also highlights in a literal sense, leavening the album’s hostile tone with sampled vocals whose uplift gestures toward religion and salvation (“HAZARD DUTY PAY!,” “THOTS PRAYER!”). In these ways and more, LP! can sometimes resemble Kanye West’s recent Donda, which struck a comparable balance between defiance and revery, and whose self-justifications were also communicated by way of embodying an ideal. These shared qualities are especially apparent on LP! centerpiece “TIRED, NERVOUS & BROKE!,” which opens with livewire shit-talking from JPEG over rumbling drums, and later fades into an in-studio conversation with none other than R&B singer Kimbra. The pair chat idly before co-performing an unadorned piano ballad that lays out some of JPEG’s future aspirations (“I don’t want to be sold out baby” and “I don’t want to be stressed out for profit,” among them). Though quieter in tone than JPEG’s Bandcamp manifesto, the message is functionally the same: the need for complete control over his creative vision, more fully realized than ever on LP!
Published as part of Album Roundup — October 2021 | Part 4.