Chris Orrick – Out To Sea [album]

Let’s offer a toast to the return of Chris Orrick, rap’s poet laureate of imperial decline. It’s springtime in the dystopia, the birds are coughing up blood, the bees are dying at an alarming rate, and Michigan’s most acerbic misanthrope has emerged from winter hibernation with a clutch of doomed stanzas about cold pizza and liver destruction. His latest for Mello Music Group, Out to Sea, might not be easy listening, but it’s impossible to ignore.

Consider Orrick the wry heir to the morbid humor of Mitch Hedberg, the barfly blues of Charles Bukowski, and the caustic rust belt satire of Michael Moore. He’s an iconoclast from a proud tradition—a thoughtful and sensitive realist who uses laughter as a way to stifle the tears. The album begins with an act of contrition: a disembodied voice shakily addresses an audience: “if I brought you down, thank you very much for showing me where I’m at. I guess I don’t really have much more to do.”

But it’s more than words, as it usually is. The voice wobbles into a weird space, trembling and swaying, unsure whether it’s about to crack up or weep inconsolably. The audience doesn’t seem to know what to do—nervously giggling and half-groaning. Then he continues, “if you don’t want me to continue then I guess I won’t.” Before it fades out, he again adds, “thank you for showing me where I’m at.”

It’s testament to Orrick’s self-lacerating genius that he can’t offer anything less than uncomfortable, sliced-to-the-marrow honesty. This is where he’s at and there is never a second of subterfuge. He will be the first to call himself a drunken, overweight Midwesterner riddled with social anxiety, consumed by fear and loathing, whose primary gift and weapon is writing songs and tape recording them.

If it hurts to listen to this record, it should. It’s an anvil-split hangover, a brutal unflinching document of a 30-year old man terrified that these words could be his last. He’s watched too many friends die young of heart attacks and overdoses, cancer and suicide. He tries to numb himself because he feels too much. He is too self-aware for self-pity, but too set in his ways to change. This is reality rap of a different strain—one that lives up to Prodigy’s axiom to put “your lifetime between the paper lines.”

Out to Sea began without any overarching ideas—writing as a way of figuring out what he needed to say and as a form of catharsis. Themes of stormy weather and disastrous climate started to materialize from the fog of word. It was an easy leap to link them with mental illness and the diseased discourse that has infected the political climate in the Trump era. Out to Sea is an attempt to communicate beyond reductive binaries—not some naïve both-sides-ism bullshit but a fragile and lasting document sketched through a vale of sadness and a haunted concern for humanity.

There are, of course, the songs, messages in a bottle that alternate between comic sketches and S.O.S flares. It starts “Out to Sea,” a rum-soaked missive about being alienated from society.” “Funny Things” is a poison pill slipped to the far right, who offer mean-spirited jokes throughout our downward spiral. “Liquor Store Hustle” is a hilarious vignette about a corner store run to buy the most disgusting food that you’d drunkenly want to eat. While “A Dying Man” artfully interpolates Elliott Smith’s “Fond Farewell,” a harrowing portrait of substance abuse. The most devastating of all might be “Wallow Hard,” where Orrick stares into the abyss, considering whether all of this effort has been a waste, and assessing whether he should just give up the ghost or become one himself.

In the hands of a lesser artist, these are themes and moments that could seem melodramatic or overwrought but with Orrick, there is a rare sense of consequences and lament, a brilliant gift for dark poesy and sly self-deprecating humor. It is music to cope and as a form of survival, a chance to find meaning in a world that frequently seems bereft of it—a record that will leave you shaken to the core, reconsidering the radiation and delirium that gradually has consumed modern life. If we still exist in a few decades, we will be able to return to Out to Sea, and listen to the soundtrack of a society that seems hopelessly adrift

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