James Ferraro: NYC, Hell 3:00 AM
Similar Artists: Dean Blunt, D’eon, Inga Copeland
Label: Hippos In Tanks
I can’t say I’ve ever completely enjoyed a release by James Ferraro. With that said, he is a fascinating producer, and one I have always listened to with a perked ear. Within recent years — since the release of Far Side Virtual (an album of his I’m still torn on) — he has been viewed as one of the more forward thinking producers within the experimental realms. After the bizarre eccentricities (ads, Microsoft voices) that became a part of his sound with Far Side Virtual, he has moved down a darker, more R&B influenced path. Sushi, the album he introduced many of these new themes on, was a pull away from his hyper conceptual work, and with his Cold mixtape earlier this year — with the emphasis largely being put on the beats and Ferraro’s own voice — it seemed he was moving in a more accessible, or at least more digestible, direction.
However, NYC, Hell 3:00 AM sees Ferraro taking his newly found sounds and crafting them into a dense, multifaceted 60 minute album that recaptures his love for overarching conceptual design. As the title suggests, this album was inspired by NYC at its darkest, most depressed, and most surreal. On these terms, Ferraro has conquered, as the album is synonymous with subway systems, a lack of oxygen, and towering grey skyscrapers that keep you locked in like a prison. This is a new kind of darkness that Ferraro is playing with, and he’s not the least bit afraid to make us feel uncomfortable. While people have been attempting to fit Ferraro’s work in with the current wave of ghostly R&B — popularized by How To Dress Well, The Weeknd, etc. — in reality there is little comparison. While I don’t feel this direction is James’ attempt to make a mockery out of this style, he does play up the humor every once in a while. “Cheek Bones”, one of the lengthier, and even dancier tracks, has the main lyric of /I don’t want cancer, but these cigarettes give me cancer/ and there are similar moments of irony played out through the album. It’s for this reason that James’ closest comparison is label mate Dean Blunt, who took his turning step as a vocalist on “The Redeemer”, released earlier this year. Both have a sound that is impossible to categorize, and their music is frequently intoxicating because of it.
These 16 songs are often skeletal, and bereft of many components that would have suited them nicely. Even the beats, which Ferraro has previously piled layer on top of layer, are conspicuously absent for minutes at a time. What is there, however, is enveloping, and harrowing in its tone. This will likely go down as James’ ambient period, as he seems much more concerned with creating a dense, cataclysmic atmosphere rather than writing solid hooks…or poetic lyrics…or any of the other things an artist would add to their music to assure people would enjoy it. Take the opener, which begins with a loop of a feminine Microsoft voice saying “money” over and over again; we keep expecting a beat to drop in, but it never does, in turn introducing the album’s neglect towards our expectations.
Many tracks, especially during the first half of the album, feature organic instrumentation such as bells, as if they are being heard from a far away church, and they act as the one safe haven in a land crawling with filth. The field recordings — which pull from idle chatter to police sirens, to 9/11 news reports — add to the tense feeling that becomes burrowed within your skin through the endurance testing running time.
Somehow, it works though. If only for its uncategorizable mood and consistently dense atmosphere, NYC Hell 3:00 AM, is an unforgettable work. It’s an album’s album: one that you couldn’t listen to a lot — or in this case, barely at all — but when that right time comes, it will be right there at the back of your mind begging you to explore its world one more time.
2.) Fake Pain*
3.) QR JR
4.) Close Ups*
5.) Beautiful John K.
6.) Stuck 1
7.) City Smells
8.) Upper East Side Pussy*
9.) Eternal Condition
10.) Stuck 2
12.) Stuck 3 (RATS)
13.) Cheek Bones*
Album Highlight – *