(New Album Review) James Ferraro- NYC, Hell 3:00 AM

I’ll start this review by stating that I don’t want to review the other hipper-than-thou hype monster that came out this year, R Plus Seven. Though there were a few songs on it I enjoyed, it was fairly disappointing, even though I like a lot of Daniel Lopatin’s other albums, particularly Returnal. And moreover, I didn’t like it or at least get it half as much as James Ferraro’s NYC, Hell 3:00 AM.

NYC has a distinct sound, but it’s somewhat difficult to describe. It frequently (“Close ups” and “Upper East Pussy” are two amusing examples) sounds like some kind of deliberately pathetic parody of corrupted nightclub-life hearthrob music like Abel Tesfaye’s The Weeknd. Or maybe it’s more like a stoned nerdy hipster rambling on about money and decadence over chopped-and-screwed Drake and field recordings of Brooklyn convenience stores. Hey, I tried.

If I seem dispassionate and glib in describing this music, I guess it’s because I’ve listened to a lot of strange music in my life. So, you know, I’ve been desensitized. And really, so-called Vaporwave music is more or less the music of complete desensitization. This genre is pretty much completely anomalous– it’s cool as all hell, but it would kill a party. It’s safe to assume that there were deeper artistic motivations behind its creation, but it’s synthetic, somewhat trivial. I’m not even sure who actually listens to it often, beyond a few thousand internet addicts. Nevertheless, NYC, Hell 3:00 AM does seem to stand out from this genre; it has more substance than the rest. There’s an agenda here.

So if the album’s title didn’t give it away to you already, the message that Ferraro is beating us over the head with is the hellishness and absurdity of the hedonistic urban hipster night life. Ferraro’s narrator-hearthrob is moaning into the mic about his emotions, about how he’s going to die of cancer from smoking cigarettes (“Cheek Bones” is totally hilarious, by the way), and all that, and then around him on the ambient soundscapes there are rats running through the gutters and people getting mugged– the sinister rumblings of the reality of the city. Disembodied robotic voices on the tracks repeat phrases like American Violence, Botox, and Money, the cultural narratives that underlie the city’s reality. Like I said, Ferraro doesn’t hesitate to beat us over the head with a message.

I may as well admit that this is an album that I didn’t completely enjoy, because, after all, it was deliberately crafted to sound disjointed, disorienting, and ugly. However, it’s an album that I don’t think I will forget soon. There’s something genuinely fascinating about tracks like the ominous “City Smells” and the eerily beautiful “Niggas”. I have to give Ferraro points for having a vision, even if it conjured an absolutely breathtakingly unpleasant album. Give it a chance– it’s good conceptual art, if anything.

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