Unlike many electronic musicians, who seem content to work with ill-defined and ambivalent moods, North Philadelphia’s Rough Year is first and foremost a story-teller, whose work has a clear thematic focus. Their music is characterized by themes of dispossession, abandonment, alienation and forced assimilation. Specifically, Rough Year has turned their attention toward the resurgence of civil rights protests around the world.
‘Arch’ and ‘Gland’, two stand-alone singles by Rough Year, form a direct snapshot into the dark subject matter via sprawling beats and glitchy experimentalism, working alongside Mongrel, their debut EP, to illustrate the story of daily urban resistance and the ultimate triumph of human dignity against oppression.
LISTEN TO ‘GLAND’ BELOW:
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In Mongrel, br0ken glass and sirens are chained to the beats while crows mewl between bars; Malcolm X warns of the annihilation of the white race amidst menacing drones in the eponymous title track, while in the same track a woman is heard spouting racist vitriol during a brief transition and, at the close of the song, sound from the Baltimore uprising is heard unadorned; in “Sinter” gunshots serve as high-hats and Congolese chants and shouts from the January riots in Kinshasa serve as percussive elements.
And yet we hear the jubilant voice of Marsha P. Johnson, the great drag queen and gay liberation activist, stressing the importance of “soul” over a fractured piano melody in “Marsha.” Finally, in the sprawling “Drowned in Piscataquog,” Rough Year addresses the death of Hertier Bosa, a young Congolese American who drowned in the New Hampshire river.
LISTEN TO ‘ARCH’ BELOW:
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Although the final message ultimately seems to be a redemptive one, a foreboding sense of doom nevertheless lingers over the entire body of work.