Evil clowns are having a big year. If you go into Spirit Halloween, you’ll notice that evil clowns take up maybe a quarter of the store’s inventory. They’re all over the place — looming, leering, flashing bloodstained teeth. Evil-clown displays giggle maniacally and spring to life as you walk past.
Evil clowns are taking up a lot of movie screens, too. The two biggest movies of the fall are both evil-clown movies. But where an evil clown might’ve once represented the degrading of childhood innocence — or where it might’ve once stood in for a John Wayne Gacy character, a type to take advantage of kids’ trusting nature to do unspeakable things — they do different things now. We assume that clowns are evil; the evil-clown trope took over for the good-clown one decades ago. These days, the evil clowns represent new things. In It Chapter 2, they’re the long-buried dark and malevolent feelings constantly lurking under the surface of a picturesque small town. In Joker, they’re the perils of loneliness and class resentment, the forces that push a strange young mess of a man into out-and-out predatory madness.
Horror movies constantly change, and they change because fears change. Horror movies exist to plunder and exploit societal anxieties — to turn those anxieties into something cathartic and entertaining. 2019’s horror cinema is basically a smorgasbord of circa-now fears. Midsommar: The idea that something as safe as a beautiful Instagram-ready vacation can descend into utter insanity. Brightburn: The inversion of the dominant superhero fantasy, the way it looks when combined with our knowledge that power corrupts anyone who touches it. Crawl: Climate disasters leading nature’s monsters to retake their rightful place in the food chain. Jordan Peele’s Us has so much going on that you can’t put it all in a sentence: Racial divisions, economic divisions, dualities, duplicities, empty gestures, underclass rage, family units transformed into feral death-cults, faceless forces doing whatever they can to control the masses, Alexa playing N.W.A when you need her to call the police.
There’s something resonant lurking underneath every halfway-effective horror flick. Clipping know all about this. The experimental rap trio have been exploring stark sounds and extreme circumstances since they emerged on their 2013 album midcity. They make profoundly discomfiting music, music for quickened pulses and gritted teeth. You can’t relax when their music is on. You can’t read to it. You can’t really drive to it. You can’t have conversations with other people while you’re listening to it. All you can really do is give into its overwhelming bad-vibes power.
The members of Clipping are master manipulators. Daveed Diggs is a Tony-winning actor who, like fellow omnipresent rapping thespian Riz Ahmed, constantly turns up in Netflix movies, kids’ cartoons, prestige TV shows. He has a recurring role on Sesame Street. He’s the lead of the TNT Snowpiercer TV show that’s apparently coming out next year. Last year, he wrote and starred in Blindspotting, a tangled and effective indie movie about race and violence and gentrification. He’s a really good actor, and good actors are good manipulators. So are film-score composers. Jonathan Snipes, one of the two producers in Clipping, regularly scores low-budget horror movies. The other producer, William Hutson, has a doctorate in experimental music. All three of them know the effect that music and words can have on you. All three of them take full advantage.
There Existed An Addiction To Blood, Clipping’s new album, is a meditation on the idea of horror — horror movies, horror stories, ’90s horrorcore rap. On the different album tracks, Diggs lays out different gruesome movie scenarios. Rich people pay piles of money to watch poor people die horribly. Someone hides from mysterious pursuers in a dumpster. A tryst becomes a bloodbath. We’ve heard stories like this before, but that doesn’t make them any less unsettling. And Diggs lays these stories out with bloodthirsty delight, zooming in on detail, digging into the texture of the viscera: “A signal fire in the lymbic nerves / Gotta give the kill what the kill deserves.” “The bags on the table ain’t for weight, they for body parts / Victim’s skin stretched across the wall, call it body art.” “Steve was still there on the floor, what was left of him / Gnarled bone, body parts, all piled in a mess.”
Diggs lays all this out with breathless speed and precision, and he does everything he can to put us, the listeners, in the shoes of the victims. He mostly raps in second person: You’re watching your friends die, you’re careening blindly into an alleyway, you’re invited to imagine the most painful death for your victim: “Tendon saw to extend a cavity / What could fit? What are you imagining?” It’s cold, unrelenting, stomach-contracting music, and it directly targets or implicates the “you” who happens to be listening.
Throughout the album, Clipping constantly make references to old rap music. Diggs’ bloody tales recall the nightmare visions of the late Bushwick Bill. “Run For Your Life” features hard-as-hell guest-rapping from La Chat, former affiliate of Satan-obsessed ’90s rap gods Three 6 Mafia. (Gangsta Boo, La Chat’s fellow former Three 6 star, showed up on Clipping’s CLPPNG in 2014, before Run The Jewels got to her.) “La Mala Ordina” brings in hard-as-hell street-rappers Benny The Butcher and Elcamino, finding a new resonance for their drug-sales stories.
But horror movies figure in just as heavily. That murderous-rich-people scenario has been in about a million films, even if I mostly associate it with the Hostel series. “Blood Of The Fang” samples music from Ganja & Hess, a 1973 cult film about ancient African vampires. (Clipping have named that movie as a key inspiration for the album.) “Nothing Is Safe” uses John Carpenter keyboard tones to riff on the plotline of 1976’s masterful gang-siege saga Assault On Precinct 13.
But there’s a key difference in what “Nothing Is Safe” does with that story. In Assault On Precinct 13, the cops and criminals in an isolated police station have to fight off hordes of faceless, silent, almost inhuman gang members. In “Nothing Is Safe,” the gang members are the embattled protagonists, and the police are the avatars of death. And that’s where There Existed An Addiction To Blood, like any great horror movie, plays on the anxieties of its age. The album is very much a picture of blackness under siege. On “Blood Of The Fang,” Diggs calls out the names of assassinated black revolutionaries and promises to “digest the flesh every wicked human till the best and blackest blood is back to ruling.” On the Kendrick Lamar-quoting “He Dead,” the singer Ed Balloon wails that “they don’t think you matter” and “they want to take your power.” The evil forces described on the album aren’t often given names, but they clearly represent the very real forces of oppression in the world today.
The music on There Existed An Addiction To Blood draws on tingly ’90s rap and ’70s horror soundtracks, but it scrapes and hisses more like early Throbbing Gristle, another group obsessed with depicting violence as graphically as possible. As with Throbbing Gristle, there’s a context here; both groups are dramatizing the dehumanization that they’re watching in the world. That exists in Diggs’ lyrics and in the music — the way the songs often dissolve into pure digital-feedback chaos before they end. There Existed An Addiction To Blood ends “Piano Burning,” a 16-minute recording of an old Annea Lockwood performance art piece. It’s really nothing but the sound of a piano burning. (Don’t worry; you’re fine if you skip that one.) This is cold, confrontational music, even when it slaps, which it often does.
Daveed Diggs doesn’t need to be doing this. He’s one of the busiest actors working right now. But before Diggs was in Hamilton and Black-ish and everything else, he was making this apocalyptic art-rap. And when you’re facing a world that’s getting more apocalyptic by the day, maybe you don’t stop doing that shit just because you got cast as a hedgehog in Ferdinand. There Existed An Addiction To Blood, even more than Clipping’s past albums, has gotten under my skin. That’s good. That’s what horror stories should do. Send in the clowns.
There Existed An Addiction To Blood is out 10/18 on Sub Pop.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Caroline Polachek’s artfully gooey Pang.
• Vagabon’s lush, personal self-titled album.
• Hovvdy’s fuzzily eccentric Heavy Lifter.
• Refused’s arena-sized post-hardcore attack War Music.
• Battles’ squealy, playful, guest-heavy Juice B Crypts.
• La Neve’s queer dance-punk party The Vital Cord.
• Jimmy Eat World’s veteran move Surviving.
• White Reaper’s committed snort-rocker You Deserve Love.
• Liam The Younger’s scruffy, methodical Up To Something.
• Floating Points’ nerve-jangled electronic album Crush.
• The Mark Lanegan Band’s heavy, swaggering Somebody’s Knocking.
• Common Holly’s emotional DIY indie rocker When I say to you Black Lightning.
• Foxes In Fiction’s layered, home-recorded Trillium Killer.
• My Morning Jacket singer Jim James’ solo album The Order Of Nature.
• Foals’ duology conclusion Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2.
• Gucci Mane’s as-yet-unheard Woptober II.
• Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford’s Christmas album Celestial.
• Guerilla Toss’ Would The Odd Do? EP.
• Jennifer Vanilla’s J.E.N.N.I.F.E.R. EP.