2001, r: 2005
’m concerned about Cex. The last time I saw him (more than nine months ago now), he was uncharacteristically subdued; he seemed out of sorts despite the glorious late spring day. When I tried to engage in him in conversation, he was reasonably polite but far from his usual enthusiastic self. He barely said a word to his audience, eschewed the mic except for a single vocal number, and pretty much spent his whole brief set looking down and twiddling knobs, like your stereotypical IDM producer (and if there’s anything he ain’t…!).
A staggeringly prolific early career had him dropping something like seven albums by the time he was 22 (2003 alone—or as he would have it, the year 5000—saw the release of three records, if you count the independently worthy Being Ridden Instrumentals), but he hasn’t put out any new recordings in what’s starting to seem like ages. And his last, the alleged LP Maryland Mansions (at a paltry 28 minutes, it’s shorter than this reissued EP) was claustrophobically dark without precedent, with nihilistic lyrics (“things aren’t getting any better / everything is only getting worse / I apologize for the mess of my life for the rest of my life forever / unless you promise to kill me first”) that sounded ominously in earnest, even given his fondness for put-ons and jokey identity play.
Now, I should probably know better than to make inferences about an artist’s personal well-being based on his recorded output. Still, I can’t help but worry about what unspeakables may have befallen the supaMCegoisticsexybraggadocious Cex, the extroperverted boyman I’ve come to know and love—to say nothing of his mild-mannered “sensitive” alter-ego Rjyan Kidwell. Besides, I want more Cex records.
For the time being it seems like we’ll have to make do with this formerly out-of-print EP, made newly available by the fine folks at Temporary Residence, with the addition of three early tracks. Originally released way back in the ‘01 on the heels of his well-received Tigerbeat6 debut Role Model, Starship Galactica consists of a handful of proficient if relatively straight-up IDM tracks, interspersed with some enjoyably sophomoric humor.
Electronic music develops so quickly that it’s difficult to imagine how groundbreaking (or not) this music might have sounded four years ago, but some of it does evoke styles and artists that have come to prominence in the interim. Most strikingly, the warm and pastoral “Your Handwriting When You Were A Child in Winter”—easily the disc’s most affecting piece—sounds like something off the first Múm album, with its sweet analog synth melodies and glitchy twitters over a martial beatbox cadence (and an innocently nostalgic title to match.) “Get In Yr Squads” is built around a looped acoustic guitar figure that recalls a funkier Four Tet. “Cal and Brady Style” is fairly generic breakbeat IDM that calls to mind Double Figure-era Plaid and, yes, the undeniable hip-hop influence that came to characterize the likes of Prefuse 73 is more overt here and elsewhere than was typical of the time.
For what that’s worth, you couldn’t really make a case for this having been “influential” (prescient, perhaps, at best), partly because the circumstantial evidence isn’t there, but mostly because no single stylistic idea is allowed much time to develop. On any given cut, Cex may have been playing by the rules of IDM, but the EP as a whole suggests a determination to flout unwritten—and arguably stifling—conventions by switching up his sound considerably from track to track. His incongruousness among IDM producers is more than evident here, and he would make a complete breach with the genre the following year with the surprisingly deft old-school rap opus Tall, Dark and Handcuffed. That move is prefigured with a couple of tracks (interludes or throwaways, depending on your attitude) that take their cues from hip-hop album construction: an intro (brief but hilarious, complete with shout-outs and “stupid computer voice,” and a skit, which I’ll leave you to discover if you choose). And then there’s the, er, novelty of the title track, which consists of Rjyan and friends repeating “Starship Galactica” ad nauseum to the tune of a cheap keyboard ‘demo’ (or, doubtful, an uncannily good imitation of one), way past the point of being funny to the point of being almost funny again. (It’s also reprised in a live “rock” version as a hidden track.)
It’s cuts like these, along with his dilettantish eclecticism, that make it apparent why some folks are so ready to dismiss Cex as a serious talent—and also why it still comes as a bit of a surprise to remember how solid he’s always been as a producer, personality issues aside. The music on this EP is no exception; even the three bonus tracks, purportedly his earliest electronic compositions—which veer closer to the industrial sounds explored on his most recent LP than most things he’d done since—stand up as more than just curiosities, though they’re recognizable as first attempts.
It’s anybody’s call which set of Starship’s tracks are more quintessentially Cex—the “music” or the “jokes.” In his live shows of the early ‘00s, humor and musicality flowed easily and in equal measure, channeled together by his effortless showmanship. Here they sit together uncomfortably, with seemingly little to say to one another, and create a tension that make this odd little EP something stranger than, if equal to, the sum of its parts.
Reviewed by: K. Ross Hoffman
Reviewed on: 2005-03-08