SKID ROW by James Ferraro
Genre: Alternative R&B, Electronic
Favorite Tracks: “Pollution,” “Million Dollar Man,” “Skid Row,” “To Live and Die In LA,” “Doctor Hollywood”
Back again with his third installment of the year, James Ferraro drags us down the streets of LA with the proto-apocalyptic jams of SKID ROW. With over 30 eclectic releases under his belt (most notably the foundational 2011 vaporwave classic FAR SIDE VIRTUAL), Ferraro has parted from the irony and pastiche that peppered his previous efforts in favor of a bleaker sound over the past few years of work. Yet, there remained something lacking on his 2013 LP, NYC HELL 3:00 AM, something that thankfully was given breath to on SKID ROW. Although Ferraro’s trajectory over the past couple years has been relatively consistent, he embraces his voice to a satisfying new degree. In combination with instrumentals that manage to stay fresh throughout the record, SKID ROW proves to be a magnum opus among his efforts from the past three years that have attempted to pinpoint this bleak but hypnotically enjoyable sound.
Influenced by his experiences living in Los Angeles, Ferraro trudges through the advertisements, TV dramas, police scanners, sirens, and televised news media soundbites reporting on crime, fires, and Rodney King. The opener “Burning Prius (For the World)” sets the stage for the synthesized, hyperreal sociality that is Los Angeles. Two automated voices acknowledge the conditions of the situation in LA: gated communities, mass surveillance, suburban sprawl, inescapable pollution, and environmental destruction. The two voices act out a fragmented version of the cognitive dissonance found writhing in LA’s subjects through a conversation over traffic, customer service, and a latte. As the interaction ends, local media samples run – now actual human voices, but are they really? Juxtaposed with the previous section, these sampled newsreels are effectively shaded as agents of a mass spectacle. The former being one’s interactions with the “screens” that have become our interface with life in the postmodern, and the latter illustrating the all-pervasive hegemony of a hyper-america. The meat of the LP tends to play off this thesis – one of interaction, collapse, excess, and a hazy bliss.
SKID ROW launches into a smoggy and hypnogogic middle ground between beats and synthesized soft rock. Ferraro’s lyricism throughout depicts the plasticine reality of Los Angeles, as if written by one who can see, from the outside, the whole of the overarching economic structure and layering social conventions that are contributing to the collapse of a city eating itself alive. The mere modern relevance of the sampling and media-bursts that occur throughout the LP that pertain to a Los Angeles that existed twenty years ago only goes to show what kind of a rut LA has dug itself into. Not to mention that it’s decked with some of the most intense stratification in the world, with pockets of unfathomable wealth bordering abysmal poverty; LA is sinking deeper in its own excrement, while at the same time piling on more and more excesses. Pseudo-prophetically, Ferraro hopelessly warns of an apocalypse that is happening in slow-motion before our very eyes. This most prominently shines through on SKID ROW’s core tracks “Million Dollar Man,” “Thrash & Escalate,” “Skid Row,” the eight minute-long “To Live and Die in LA,” and “Rhinestones”.
Utilized throughout Ferraro’s career, the theme of a synthesized high-life – hyper-secure, but juxtaposed with hyper-violence – reaches a satisfying tangibility on SKID ROW. The aesthetics of the LP quite literally sound like they were ripped out of the dreams (and nightmares) of some poor child in a coma spanning the early 90s at Cedars-Sinai, whose only outside influence was the sound of a television stuck on the local 24-hour news on one side, and a radio that flickered between rock and top 40s on the other. The resulting amalgam is Ferraro’s unshakeable synthesis of soft-rock, R&B, and sound collage. Through this, SKID ROW shines in its consistency. It is an album that could only be made in 2015 under the current social, economic, and environmental spiral, and simultaneously manages to effectively comment on all of these aspects, bearing the full weight of the reality inherent, and for that I thank James.