First up: If anyone released a worthy rap mixtape in the past seven days, I haven’t been able to find it. The closest thing would be Trina’s Back 2 Business, which French Montana “executive produced,” and which sounds pretty much the way a middling French Montana mixtape would sound if French had a more interesting voice and if he rapped about sucking dick. It’s not terrible! But it doesn’t have a “Pull Over” or a “Told Y’All” or a “B R Right” on it, and if I’m going to enthuse in print about Trina, it’s going to be about the Trina that made those songs, not the late-period one who’s figuring out ways to be re-assimilated into the big-money rap landscape. So for this week’s pick, I’m going back a couple of weeks, to a tape I’m not entirely sure I understand or love, but one that I know I can’t shake.
Cities Aviv has an interesting and impossible-to-replicate background. He comes from punk rock, but he also comes from Memphis, the city that birthed tape-hiss crunk fight music, and shades of both of those things echo around deep in his music. As a rapper/producer, he can be a friendly and disarming presence. Last year’s pretty-great Digital Lows album played around with warm psychedelia and Black Dice textures without sacrificing its central thump or Cities’ general personability. But now he’s taken yet another left turn. The new tape is called Black Pleasure, but there’s not a lot of pleasure involved. Instead, it’s a stark and unforgiving full-length, one that goes full-on stark postpunk and shows just how weird things can get when that aesthetic intersects with small-stakes internet-rap.
Throughout the tape, Cities buries his voice in his tracks, drenching them in metallic fallout-shelter-echo distortion. His beat for the intro track sounds like a CD skipping, and his beat for the instrumental interlude “Pure Infinite” sounds like a car door being slammed repeatedly on your head, and then Pictureplane remixing it. When you can actually pick out his lyrics, Cities leaves clues that let you know exactly where he’s positioning this one; he’s “hanging like Ian Curtis,” see. But as far as I can tell, this isn’t a lark or a onetime genre experiment; it’s an adventurous musician trying to figure out new ways to figure out how to talk about what he wants to talk about.
And what he wants to talk abut here, at least when I can pick it out, is mostly emo stuff. There are a few lyrics about fake rappers, or inexpressive rappers, or whatever. But for the most part, this is relationship talk, both full-blush in-love and struggling-to-communicate. Sometimes, he lets his samples do his talking. On “Express Your Love,” another instrumental, it’s an old soul singer trying to croon “express your love” through minimal dubscape before another answers “talk to me, talk to me,” and the Silky Johnson beat abruptly switches up into something darker and sadder. On “Escorts,” he seems to be yelling about a girl cheating on him, or trying to convince a girl to fuck him, but it’s hard to tell because he’s yelling over a maddening soul loop that keeps drowning him out.
Black Pleasure isn’t exactly a fun listen, and it probably bites off more that it can aesthetically choose as often as not. But it’s still a daring overreach, an unafraid leap into the stylistic unknown. Part of me hopes that Cities works to refine this sound on his next release, to figure out what works about it and what doesn’t. But part of me hopes he makes something equally nuts and impossible to process. I don’t love Black Pleasure, but I respect the hell out of it.
Download Black Pleasure for free here.