Have you heard much post-minimalism by Philip Glass? It’s all separation and dissection, one moment in time isolated and distributed across space. A premise gets broken into its simplest parts. (Check out David Ives’ play, Philip Glass Buys A Loaf Of Bread.) An occurrence becomes a sentence then dissolves into syllables, and inherently breaks further still, until we arrive at the absolute of precision: beats. Glass would love Hecuba’s debut album Paradise. He’d want to slice it into a million pieces and decorate a tree with it. He’d say Isabelle Albuquerque was a great rapper because she extends a natural line across time, plucking each word out and re-emphasizing its constellation.
Often, a great piece of art makes you think about something totally abstract—and hopefully go overboard—allowing you to impose a grand scheme of meaning on its surface. Let’s say, on Paradise, love and music are the equivalents of space and time. These forces push and pull the universe every which way, making some parts spiked and other parts round. The music concerns love. Love is a siren passing by that—instead of making you pull over—you must mimic until it goes out of reach.
Hecuba does not imitate sounds of nature, but resembles sounds natural to the world: ambulance sirens, a tornado of leaves, clanging metal car ornaments dangling off a rearview mirror—these are the basic building blocks of track three, “Miles Away.” With these sounds, Albuquerque and partner Jon Beasley explore love triangles on Paradise, more or less between two people, “he” and “she” (or “Tom” and “Jerry”), otherwise between person and music. Triangles appear because a third force, perhaps circumstance, enables one thing to seduce or obsess the other. The beats are relentless palpitations, a heart rubbed with crushed espresso and vitamin C then tossed on a Bar-B-Q to hiss and writhe.
The conceptual world of Paradise abides by certain parameters. Love and music are no longer inanimate objects, but breathe and walk, dance or mostly flail wildly while wearing spandex bodysuits. Paradise’s Man has left Woman for a brass horn blaring on the dance floor, and she sets about getting him back over the course of the album, trying different approaches. The obstacle is most clearly examined in “La Musica.” Woman’s lover is trapped. He can’t stop dancing. She politely asks the DJ to return her man. In “Extra Connection,” she appeals directly to her possessed lover, assuring him she knows what’s up because she’s got the fever even worse than he does—something Albuquerque growls like a Southern belle.
“Tom & Jerry” resembles a theatrical aside. Lights dim on the action (freezing dancer-boy mid-mashed potato) as his woman, getting fed up, likens their love to a game of cat and mouse. “You got me hanging like a chandelier, catching the light with a crystal tear / You got me living in the living room, you got me dining in the dining room, but the last supper was ate, uh huh.”—A plea for emancipation emphasized by flapping wings: “Freedom’s ahead…”
The short ditty “Everything” isolates Beasley on the mic. Our possessed dancer slowly regains consciousness and begins mumbling lessons learned in his hypnotized dance state. “Suffering” brings clarity, and is the most accessible pop track on the album—a sing along about how everybody, including Jimmy, Jackie, Jamie, Marlon and Maggie, gets hurt when love falls apart. “The Magic” swaggers and shimmers more brightly than anything since the late-70s to mid-80s, when music was allowed to dance and be beautiful and witchy. Perhaps that’s where Kate Bush references come in. Think of “Heads We’re Dancing” off Bush’s Hounds of Love: a woman stays up all night dancing with a dashing stranger who in the morning turns out to be Hitler.
In “The Magic,” Iz spits game at her nightingale—“You got the magic, baby”—but her vocals pass through a digitizer, breaking Albuquerque’s steady whisper into watery octaves. Nightingale means “night songstress,” named 1,000 years ago because after sunset, birdy breaks into song. Later we learned it’s actually the male, not the female, who is responsible for the species’ characteristic trills. Which brings us to Beasley-gale, the man behind the music station wearing a tank top, dancing feverishly in his seat with his lips pressed against the microphone. Beasley explores the many intonations of his husky sigh: “uh,” “ah,” “hoo,” etc, layering these with blips, gurgles, keys and horns. In the studio, Beasley pushed the limits of every sound’s production, in some cases collaborating with avant-futuristic producer/drummer Butchy Fuego. Each minute detail moving from foreground to background is as precise as glass. In fact, Philip Glass would say Paradise is a great hip-hop album.
NO CULTURE AND THE ECHO PRESENT A RELEASE PARTY FOR HECUBA’S PARADISE WITH HECUBA AND RAINBOW ARABIA ON WED., APR. 22, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8 PM / $8 / 18+. ATTHEECHO.COM.