Best Available Technology’s Exposure Therapy resurrects a specific time and place in history – the golden era of New York hip-hop – a sound which filters through the record like a warm ghost, shrouded in layers of narcotic dub and slow-moving electronica. Kevin Palmer’s first record on wax is a restrained recollection of a beloved sound, envisioning a bygone musical era — the jagged, bass-heavy sound of 1990s New York boom bap – long placed aside as a dusty relic in hip hop’s ever-evolving modern presence. On Exposure Therapy, this distant and distinctive memory serves as a source of endless inspiration.
Any exercise in nostalgia is an intensely personal one, but Palmer’s work is also expansive, inviting the listener into his sonic perambulation of the past. Moving through the record is much like navigating the metropolis in the midst of that musical moment itself. The languid, half-real, often dislocating rhythms give a sense of the muggy city heat, swarming subways and smokey sidewalks unique to New York City, and all its attendant moments of melancholy and wonder. Its abstract, atmospheric compositions allow the city to appear and disappear at will, at once tactile and omnipresent, then receding into a shimmering mirage.
Consider the hazy ambient gem ‘Section 7780’, caught inside a mournful and solitary repetition, clattering with spectral piano chords and a crackling, washed out melody, an elegy to people and places past. Highlight ‘Section 4190’ is diaphanous and warm, smoked out dub fused with introspective beats, a meditation on loss from the coolly detached perspective of time. The songs are distorted ghosts, and hidden inside the hearts of their skeletal structures are impressionistic moments, trapped like golden amber, attached to certain instances past, a feeling found in a fleeting city dream. Elsewhere, the cacophony of the city is swept to the foreground, heavy broken beats pulsing and fading, as if hearing a favourite old record being played from a faraway place.
The melding of ambient, dub and left-field techno with gritty hip-hop beats makes this a difficult album to define, at once immersed in this decaying melodic memory and removed from it. The songs shudder within the weight of this contradiction, warping and disintegrating at will; a pervasive sense of anxiety and estrangement accompanies the remembrance of things past – the weight of recollection without possibility of return. Palmer’s structures are sparse, and yet the overall effect creates a warm and haunting sound. Based in Portland, this is Palmer’s love letter to a time and place known only by proxy, rose-tinted yearning experienced only in retrospect. And yet, this very detachment allows him to craft an elusive yet evocative sound, his own musical form which escapes a conclusive definition, but like brushstrokes landing on a canvas, are perfectly placed.
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