Throwaway Style: A Series of Musings Inspired By Wolftone's Fortress Files Vol.1

Throwaway Style, Local Music, KEXP Premiere
08/06/2020
Martin Douglas
Photo courtesy of Wolftone

Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, the first Thursday of every new month on KEXP.org.


A mile and a half separates Meeker Middle School from Browns Point Elementary, the former only a small handful of blocks away from the house where I live. The run is scenic in the way most suburbs are; gated neighborhoods, the deceptively steep incline/decline carrying a straightaway high school kids with new cars test their quarter-mile on, near-million-dollar homes likely subject to Housing Authority minutiae, the community center whose ellipticals I’ve sweated all over. The sort of milquetoast banality you get as a bonus package when you trade in to live somewhere quiet and outwardly peaceful.

The jog is wide open and absolutely treacherous if this is the first cardio you’ve done in over four months. The first time I tried it, the three-mile walk left me couch-ridden for the rest of the day. Outside the enclave teeming with two-story houses and yuppie names like Heritage Park, a tree stands almost sixty feet tall. On the corner of 21st Ave NE and Northshore Parkway, you can see the Tacoma Dome proudly on its throne in the distance.

It’s July, the day after the hottest day of the year so far, sticking out like a sore thumb in a summer where just last week I was wearing the Carhartt beanie usually reserved for winter walks from the parking garage, through Seattle Center, and to my desk. (Daryl has been standing guard over the office since the shelter in place order in March.) I’ve been anxious and depressed, due in part to not exercising as much as usual, but also because we’re in the throes of a deadly year where capitalism and fascism seem to take precedence over American lives. The greed of our government choosing not to waive rent and mortgages and whatever else they could do to help flatten the proverbial curve of COVID-19. Homeland Security patrolling major cities in hopes of sending protesters away in fear of a burgeoning police state. 

Those are enough to make a motherfucker lock themselves down in their fortress with short breaks from the deluge of still being alive in 2020 to take three-mile jogs.

I’ve been anxious and depressed, due in part to feeling like I’m just going through the motions in a writing career I’ve overpaid dues to, just when I leave my day job at the supermarket to make a real go at it. But who could honestly think about anything else long enough to be inspired by anything in 2020? My deepest congratulations if you’re that person.

Choosing to become a full-time writer during a worldwide pandemic and civil rights crisis is like choosing to live in a tool shed during a hurricane, but still I persist.

Maybe it’s the context of the way I’ve bonded with the album, but Fortress Files Vol. 1 sounds like a still summer afternoon, with its beauty and sweltering heat and tension cooking underneath the surface. The need for solitude jostling against loneliness not trampled by trail runners or the mass of outside bodies summer usually attracts.

In an era where 25 rappers kick bars over the same seven or eight (admittedly very good) samples, Wolftone stands among a thinning generation of true-to-life crate-diggers, looping music other beatmakers would never think to loop, retrofitting psych, soul, and crystalline folk music into some real hip-hop shit. Parts of the music on Wolf’s first official instrumental album are recognizable, but only because the sample for “Khmer” shoots out of AJ Suede’s Gotham Fortress like a sword in a haystack. The seductive “Twilight” is from Suede’s excellent collaboration with BB Sun, Black Cube Vol. 1, while the distant, droning guitar on “Pure” closes Darth Sueder II: Goth Marciano as its bonus track.

Some time while leading into brief dalliances with antidepressants, my physician chatted with me about how introversion is disregarded, frowned upon, or ridiculed by many Western cultures but is valued tremendously in the Eastern Hemisphere. This memory is pulled from the archives when I listen to the ethereal “By Myself,” and I see the sterile claustrophobia elicited by the examination rooms at the doctor’s office, everything either new, discarded, or folded into the magazine rack on the wall. 

“Be Around” is the voice coming from the distance; maybe these days the other end of a Facetime call. “If you’re alone and you need a friend, I”ll be around” the track’s soulful refrain, calls to the loneliness all over this volume of Wolftone compositions. Sometimes when I listen to rap instrumentals, I can hear the voice of an MC in my head while it plays. Here, I instantly hear the baritone, stoned drawl of Curren$y -- easily one the most consistently great artists in the rap game today -- weaving in and out of Wolf’s pleading, reassuring loop. 

Fortress Files Vol. 1 is far more musical than your garden variety beat tape, replete with instrumental passages forged in orchestral and operatic sonics. The aforementioned “By Myself” is led by a descending guitar line and upright bass which gives way to a spectral voice and somber flute in the distance. “Lost Odyssey,” barely having percussion to hold it earthbound, sounds like the imagined soundtrack for a stylish 1980’s film; a movie with soft lighting and flowing gowns which look like curtains. Or set in the deep nights of Miami, where the only lights the viewer sees are from the neon glow. The subdued melancholy of “Wander Away” feels excavated from the hypothetical dollar bins of a renaissance fair. Its vocal sample sings, “Where is the wonder?”

Where is the wonder? Do we lose the whole picture when we focus on the big picture? Do we see the bodies in the streets and the curves in the concrete? Our little fears and setbacks are part of the tapestry, but they’re difficult to manage while they feel as large as the moon crashing into high tide somewhere off the coast. When the tidal wave of negative energy hits us, our bodies instinctually go into survival mode; sometimes the need for survival is so strong we shut our brains off to everything else.

The vocal sample for “Khmer” rings out. I don’t know what I’m in search of but I’m close.

Am I struggling to hold the words which encapsulate a generation of lost, little black boys trying to find understanding? Am I writing a specific experience, too specific for any other human to understand but something they can chip off the wall and take home with them? Am I looking for the express approval from strangers I felt I never received from my closest loved ones growing up? Do I just want a stable, full-time job where I’m free to stop worrying about money while I attempt to articulate the things that keep me awake at night too strong to be suppressed by Ativan and steamed vegetables?

The starving artist thing gets a little old when you’re deep into your thirties and you’re thinking about adult things like cohabitation and financial security.

I want so badly to channel this stress and violent frustration and this fucking desolate urge to give up. But people look at you funny. They read your work and ask if you’re okay; they become overly solicitous. I’ve been through this song and dance before, singing and dancing in and out of hospitals and therapy offices and the back of my dearly departed Chevy Caprice, where I wiggled an old sock out of the exhaust pipe. The song and dance of performing musicals with dead loved ones in my dreams or thinking about the ghastly things I’ve been through in life. The background noise on “Dialogue” reminds me of the overcast skies where I’ve shuffled my feet and let out a wail, ringing out louder than anything in my head while nobody else hears it.

Art is inherently an exercise in vanity, in self-exploration, in investigating the things stirring around inside of ourselves, but we give it to others in hopes they get something out of it. Maybe it’s something that helps them dig into something dormant or stuffed underneath or screaming to be processed. It’s something we do for ourselves other people essentially do for themselves. As the hollowed out, sped up balladry of “Drowsy” makes way for the sunset music of “Tales of the Unexpected,” I do my best to ease up on feeling everything at once long enough to go for another long jog, hoping to harden myself to the resistance of the terrain and the world in general so this will get a little easier, so it will all get a little easier.


New, News, and Notable

Video Premiere: LexScope - "Good Riddance (featuring Scotty Sensei and Poison Jams)"

LexScope is the sort of reinassance man perfect for the region of the Pacific Northwest, as most of us who create things can relate to having our fingers in several different pies. He's a rapper, photographer, and filmmaker whose short film Plz Don't Die received very good placement at last year's Tacoma International Film Festival. "Good Riddance," which Lex had been working on for a while, finds the North Carolina-born artist trades bars with Scotty Sensei over the thump of Poison Jams' beat.

The video itself is a homage to a handful of great 90's cinema (I won't give them all away, but one of the scenes should definitely feature Sensei chatting about visiting a McDonalds in Amsterdam), "Good Riddance" is an extremely fun, impeccably shot video which highlights LexScope's talents in both the realms of music and filmmaking.

News: Save Our Stages! Help Our Favorite Music Venues Stay Afloat!

NIVA – the National Independent Video Association – is a collective of nearly 2000 venues around the United States, independently owned and among the first businesses to close when COVID-19 first started wreacking havoc. Save Our Stages is a bipartisan initiative asking for Congress to modify small business loans and the Payroll Protection Prorgram, to continue unemployment insurance and provide tax relief and rent and mortgage forbearance for the venues in their vast network, businesses that won't open until COVID is fully contained, which no one has a firm timetable on. It's safe to say if you read this column, you have a fair amount of attachment to the concept of live music, and this might end up being either a crucial win or a colossal loss for our live music community.

What can you do to help? For starters, you can sign the Save Our Stages petition here! The site will also allow you to view which venues are part of NIVA (which includes over thirty venues in Washington State, including The Vera Project, Neumos, The Crocodile, Alma Mater Tacoma, and many more of your favorite venues in town) and news from various sources about the potential extinction many music venues in America face. Sign the Save Our Stages petition today, 

New Rap Alert: Nate Jack - Left Corner Lush

East Seattle MC Nate Jack has been penning verses along with some of the city's brightest wordsmiths for a long time, serving as an affiliate of sorts for Black Constellation and being spotlighted on some of the collective's greatest works (my favorite of which being Porter Ray's "Bulletproof Windows"). His new project Left Corner Lush is heavily represented by Black Constellation members; the only feature outside of the crew is 69/50 star DoNormaal on the in-the-clouds bounce of the "One Time or No Times" (alongside feature assassin Stas THEE Boss, who appears on five of the EP's eight tracks).

Over the course of the project's run time, Jack ruminates on dwelling Central District streets, loyalty, slow-burning kush, and orgasms from the cosmos over a collection of far-reaching beats plowing the terrain of spacey bounce, thumping techno, and soulful grooves provided by a collection of producers including OC Notes, B Roc, and Stas herself. Left Corner Lush is perfect for chilling over a smoldering ashtray on a nice afternoon, contemplating all of life's moving parts.

 

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