Injury Reserve - By the Time I Get to Phoenix

When a masterpiece drops, it isn't always so easy to tell if you're really listening to a truly exceptional album or if it's mostly just the initial hype swaying your opinion. As someone who has reviewed a lot of albums I like to believe my ability to pinpoint quality versus hype is a little sharper than most people's, so long story short, I am 100% confident this album is the real deal.

Injury Reserve's debut album was one of my favorite albums of 2019, but with the unspeakably tragic passing last year of Stepa J. Groggs, a core rapper of Injury Reserve who was only 32 years old at the time of passing, my excitement in anticipation for their next release was crushed and replaced with sheer confusion and anxiety. Under such intense circumstances, I really did not have very high expectations for By the Time I Get to Phoenix — how could you continue making amazing music while living through one of the worst moments of your life? I've never really believed in the cliché that tragedies create a drive within artists to make amazing art, and have always thought that no, tragedies actually just suck all around.

I guess Injury Reserve also believe "tragedies actually just suck all around", because in By the Time I Get to Phoenix, there is absolutely no silver lining. If you've ever wondered what living through an existential crisis feels like, it's this. Hopelessness, pessimism, anxiety, depression, a sharp awareness that we are all going to die, there is no meaning to life, and life is full of pointless suffering. It's one of the darkest places the human psyche can go, because frankly, and I say this as a person who isn't depressed right now, a lot of the darkest thoughts someone going through an existential crisis has are probably correct. To properly articulate the dismal psychosis of such a moment in one's life is not easy to do, and it's especially not easy to effectively capture in music. Somehow, despite the tragic circumstances, Injury Reserve nails it, and it's made all the more devastating knowing this is not just a theatrical performance of make-believe suffering.

That level of emotion alone is enough to make a compelling album (See: A Crow Looked at Me, but by some miracle this album is actually innovative musically as it is emotionally heavy. The production is like if Faust made Cosmogramma but relied heavily on experimental rock samples to get the job done. I mean we've got a freaking Shellac sample in here, what more could you want? While I've seen artists like Dälek and Danny Brown incorporate post punk and experimental rock samples into their music wonderfully, I don't think any of it could really classify as IDM. These beats deteriorate in front of your eyes just like life itself.

If this album were just instrumental, that'd be stellar. If this album had straightforward rapping on it, that'd also be great. But Injury Reserve wasn't going to let the production carry the album here—the rapping is equally as avant-garde. With a sloppy, organic delivery packed with abstract lyrics that just spill out of Ritchie with a t's mouth, this is what I'd imagine MC Ride would sound like if he chilled out, slowed down, and stopped yelling on a particularly sad day. The vocal delivery is dripping with misery, and the lyrics are just abstract enough to make you pause but clear enough to sting on impact.

Ain't no savin' me, ain't no savin' me or you

Every song on this album is a phenomenal achievement, I could really go on. But all I have to say for now is, this album is the real deal, and I'd put money on a bet that this is going down as one of the greatest albums of our generation.
1 Comment
Sep 22, 2021
amazing review
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