Rjyan Kidwell has been fighting with seemingly two different personalities for On one hand, he's the mild-mannered Rjyan, keeper of a website in which he spills all his personal thoughts and worries about the insecurities. Over the course of the past couple years, he's written genuinely funny and moving passages about touring, racking his brain during the creative process of making music, dealing with fans (and haters), and just plain life observations. On the other side of things, he's Cex, his performing alter-ego, a rapping, in-your-face entertainer who strips down while performing to pre-programmed tracks.
Being Ridden sees the most convergence of those two personalites yet, and despite a short running time, it's an ambitious, sometimes awkward mish-mash of soul-baring, ego-blaring, and everything in-between. If you've been following along since the beginning, this release marks the fifth full length for Kidwell (if you include his first, handmade CDR-only and now out-of-print release Cells). Following on the heels of that disc, his first two real releases (Role Model and Oops, I Did It Again) were a catchy blend of skittery IDM and sampled real instruments, while his last disc (Tall, Dark, and Handcuffed) found him entering the hip-hop game with a completely goofy album of songs about riding bikes and dodgeball (among other things). Being Ridden is a big step beyond any of those releases in terms of sheer sonics alone, and although it's somewhat spotty, it pulls it out in enough places to keep it on the rails.
There's no mistaking the difference in sound beginning with "The Wayback Machine." A mix of acoustic guitars, punchy beats, and juicy synths and chimes, it almost sounds like a completely different artist. It builds up until the end of the track crunches with loads of distortion and swirling, string synths while Kidwell trails the refrain out to nothing. "You Kiss Like You're Dead" shuffles along with low-end pads and jangly guitar, hinging on another distorted chorus before wasting away to nothing. "Signal Katied" takes things in yet another direction, mixing live drumming with more acoustic guitar and a simple repeated vocal phrase.
It's during the middle of the release that Kidwell seems to find his stride in full, as well as dropping some of the most conflicting tracks yet. "Earth-Shaking Event" is a hilarious, romping rant calling out indie-singers for their 'emo-ness,' while the very next track drops back to introspection, mixing some of the best programming on the disc with lamenting lyrics (including backup vocals by Shudder To Think's Craig Wedren). As if to keep the listener completely confused, the disc follows that up with "Stamina," a boastful crunch-step that absolutely slays (in part due to amazing accompanying music by Venetian Snares).
As if that weren't enough, that track is followed up with a fairly straightforward guitar track before the disc bumps into "The Marriage," again mixing some great production work with confused relationship vocals. "Brer Rjyan" has some interesting musical ideas, but again buries them with obvious dynamic shifts that feel more influenced by Nine Inch Nails than anyone else. Needless to say, the 13-track, 40-minute disc is an interesting document from the mind of a 22 year old who's seen a lot in the past couple years and has poured it out into a hodge-podge of a release. Lyrics contradict themselves on different songs, and the music is sometimes a bit overbearing (the quiet-loud dynamic shifts to add more emphasis) than it really needs to be, especially on tracks where the instrumentation is as varied and interesting as on tracks like "Dead Bodies". It's an album about working through difficult sections of life, so it can be forgiven if it's a little all-over-the-place.
For fans of Cex who don't want to hear vocals at all, Temporary Residence is simultaneously releasing Being Ridden as a disc of instrumentals. The tracklisting is slightly different, changing around songs here and there to flow a little better, as well as leaving off a couple tracks (most notibly the Venetian Snares contribution "Stamina") and including a couple others. As mentioned above, it's Kidwells most diverse album ever musically, and as also mentioned above, it's somewhat all over. Some tracks hold up quite well on their own, but there are others that are unfortunately a bit flat when the layer of vocals is taken out. One of the best moments on the release is the stunning instrumental of "My Hands Switched Wtih Mannequin Hands." Arriving about halfway through the disc, the subtle ambience of the track recalls the glitchy work done by Kid 606 on his Why I Love Life EP, and I only wish it went on longer than 4 minutes. Both releases seem to be a musical chronicle of big life changes and all the ambiguity and questioning that goes on with such, but at the very least it's an exciting one that has me interested in hearing what the next step is.
Rating: Being Ridden: 7