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After listening to Cliche Noir a few times through, you wouldn’t be too far off base for feeling Raven Hollywood needs an extended hug and a fourteen-hour stress nap.
“I fell back in my ways/Losing jobs, losing friends, but I don’t give a fuck,” he sings on “It Wasn’t Always This Way.” “I keep running away/But no matter how fast I go, I’m stuck.” Hollywood’s music is carried by naked emotion, but strays from boilerplate emo-rap sentimentality because of his attention to detail and the little twinges of emotion seeping through the cracks of his narcotized vocals. Over the slightly grungy, slightly psychedelic tune (a co-production between Hollywood and Wolftone), he sings of being unaffected by religion while all of his friends pass away from overdosing.
The Brakebill-produced “I Need a Friend” captures the dulling feeling of carrying yourself through the mounting days passed -- tally mark after tally mark after tally mark on the wall -- in isolation. The track is as serene and pretty as having an internal breakdown watching the sun rise, while Hollywood sings of cracked skulls and debris, of slipping Xanax in his Gatorade. “Blue Pill” finds Hollywood sings in a numb baritone, “I’m young, I’m dumb, I just want to fucking die again,” with Brakebill (who also produced this track) intoning the feeling of not being able to escape his thoughts. Hollywood warbles his way through “Shouldn’t Be Alone,” a desperate plea in the confines of a phone call with a loved one.
Hollywood isn’t exactly a rapper, but his style draws a lot from hip-hop. Many of his songs are reimagined versions of existing songs, using its source material to conjure up new ideas and feelings. “School Bus,” the opening track of Fear and Loathing in Seattle, sings of kids waiting for the bus on the side of the highway and wandering, lost souls over Nirvana’s cover of Meat Puppets’ “Lake of Fire.” (The song also contains a very astute observation: “White men love football/White boys love trap songs.”)
“Wanna” samples the Cat Stevens version of “The First Cut is the Deepest” and cuts off abruptly midway through the song’s first verse. Hollywood sings barely above a murmur, ruminating over a relationship that just couldn’t come together, hotboxing in a Mercedes-Benz, and offering, “I know I should quit the drugs, I don’t wanna.” Opener “Liquids & Solids” sounds like what could happen if Ariel Pink took a sudden interest in Soundcloud rap, highlighted by the very hip-hop boast, “I’m a problem/No one can fix it or solve it.”
Closer “Killer” is immediately reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series, which is to say there is a feeling of being on the brink of death, lying in the shadows of a man sitting in the middle of an empty room with an acoustic guitar. Hollywood sings of possessing the bloodline of killers with a tone that suggests in his mind a violent end is not totally out of the question. “Theoretical,” the closest Cliche Noir gets to a traditional rap song, features spectacular work from Bujemane – who is on a roll so far in 2018 with his stellar projects Sorry We Couldn’t Wait For U and PBOYT – and the Wolftone-produced track evokes the image of walking on the creaky boards of a swamp bridge. It ominously provides a respite to the comfortably numb depression of the rest of the release.
Throughout the course of Cliche Noir, black clouds converge overhead. Depression is less like a sharp pain, or even a dull pain, for that matter. It’s a quiet, joyless moment extended to the farthest reaches. There are no peaks and valleys, no torrential downpours or blazing temperatures. There isn’t the sensation of drowning or getting punched. Depression is numbing, the feeling of being trapped even though your body is free to roam wherever it pleases.
So much of depression is standing at the flirting tongue of the sea, waiting for the waves to wash you away. Waiting, not swimming as far as you can until the current takes you under; that is saved for the moment you are finally tired of the passage of time still standing on the shore. Cliche Noir is at moment on the edge where you’re waiting for someone to end it for you, not quite on the brink of ending the feelings that drag you down. His brain and bloodstream wracked with drugs and depressive thoughts, Raven Hollywood captures the feeling of depression’s long trip very accurately, and would be a total bummer if it weren’t so engrossing.
Othello Block Party is Coming This Saturday
We're in the thick of summertime, and with summer comes one of the very best things about the season, all the block parties to be had. If you didn't get your block party fill last weekend, the Othello Block Party will be held on Saturday to scratch that itch. A celebration of the diversity of South Seattle's arts community, it will feature nearly two dozen acts throughout the afternoon and evening. Want to read the Othello Block Party mission statement and sample some of the artists delivering sets on what it set to be a gorgeous and hot summer day? Click here.
Seattle songwriter Raven Matthews goes by many names, from his birth name to RVN and now Raven Hollywood. With each new moniker, you can feel his progression as an artist. On his latest EP, IRL, the Raven Hollywood name aptly embodies the grand and murky folk noir visions. Following up last year'...