The FADER’s “Songs You Need” are the tracks we can’t stop playing. Check back every day for new music and follow along on our Spotify playlist.
The “pandemic album” is a concept so vague and well worn by this point that the world might be better off if the phrase was never uttered again. isomonstrosity, however, is quite possibly the platonic ideal of a pandemic album. Devised by three prolific artists who normally operate behind the scenes and had way too much time on their hands during deep COVID, it’s a remote reimagining of the “takes a village” mentality. Johan Lenox — who’s produced for the likes of Kanye West, Travis Scott, and Lil Nas X — joined Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid and conductor/computer engineer Yuga Cohler to sketch the blueprint for a “pandemic symphony that incorporates elements of rap and avant-pop,” according to a press release accompanying the album’s announcement.
To realize their vision, they recruited from their collective rolodex of acclaimed songwriters, producers, and composers and commissioned five of them — The National’s Bryce Dessner, electro-acoustic artist Nina C. Young, esteemed opera maker Wang Lu, and contemporary classical composers Marcos Balter and Carlos Simon — to fill out the record’s tracklist, augmenting the trio’s own creations. Their concepts were then set to wax by the International Contemporary Ensemble before guest vocalists were brought in to complete the process.
“careful what you wish for,” out today, is the symphony’s second single, following August’s “i used to” with Phoenician multi-hyphenate Kacy Hill. The new track features veteran Detroit emcee Danny Brown and squeaky-voiced iconoclast 645AR, who join the record’s impressive list of collaborators: Danny L Harle, Empress Of, Vic Mensa, Tommy Genesis, and Zacari, as well as all those mentioned above.
“Thoughts racin’, one-track mind / Tripped over a couple hurdles, still made the finish line,” Brown begins on “careful,” after a frantic fiddle ushers in a clangorous synth that’s somewhere between a kick-snare 808 and a percussive sub bass. His verse is relatively subdued, delivered in the straightforward speaking voice he’s been rapping with lately in lieu of the exaggerated drawl that populated his earlier classics. His flow is stilted and awkwardly slow at points but generally strong, a testament to the constant evolution of his artistic vision.
The track shifts dramatically at exactly the one-minute mark, the same fiddle introducing the the simple, lovely harmony that will undergird 645AR’s signature squeal. (It sounds like plucked strings, but according to an artist statement, it’s actually a clarinet run through a vocoder.) The Bronx-born artist started his career in somewhat gimmicky fashion, seemingly the final result of the years-long competition for highest-pitched vocals over trap beats. In the past two years, though, he’s proved his versatility and staying power, repeatedly stealing the show on every track he blesses — even when his scene partner is fka twigs. Still, it’s unusual for him to sing for as long as he does here over such soft instrumentation. Duetting with Lenox — who emulates 808s-era Ye in his own impressive vocal performance — 645 soars above the instrumental, seemingly unencumbered by anyone else’s idea of what he should sound like.
Watch the official visualizer for “careful what you wish for” and read Yuga Cohler’s statement on the song below.
Statement from Yuga Cohler on “careful what you wish for”
“Form and structure are something we talked about a lot on this album. Johan and I in particular have discussed the significance of songs like Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE” and Kanye West’s “New Slaves” which are really a stitching-together of multiple songs, in pushing formal boundaries in popular music. “careful what you wish for” takes a page out of that book, and features some very disparate elements: the always great Danny Brown on top of a percussive beat, next to 645AR’s ethereal falsetto over clarinet processed through a vocoder. I really loved watching Johan have that ‘aha’ moment to craft an entirely new piece out of these really contrasting fragments.”