Album Review :
Self Proclaimed Narcissist - Honesty Folk EP
Band: Self Proclaimed Narcissist
Title: Honesty Folk EP
Label: It’s Ectoplasm!
Release Date: 4/20/2012
Reviewer: Fallon Braddy
- Surgical Extraction
- 90 lb. Wuss
- Shallow Water
- I Am Narcissist
Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.
-Proverbs 19:1 ESV
Self Proclaimed Narcissist has been an artist that has, through his music, challenged me on several levels that are normally battles between black and white. Musically, if I hear an artist I don’t like, I’ll know through a single song of theirs and dismiss them as either bad or not in my particular taste. Ideologically, there are key identifiers in a philosophy or message that can bring me to agree or disagree with (or at least ponder) in as little as one sentence or word, depending on the context. However, as I enrolled in English 102, learning the skills of objective analysis, sifting through subjectivity in an artistic work or a historical article, I also came across Self Proclaimed Narcissist for the first time. While he’s been putting out music since 2007, his name blended in with all the other folk punk acts my friends showed me. Upon listening though, I’ve traveled from the black of disgust in his musicality, through the gray path of listening and thinking, “I like rough recordings, but it sounds like he’s out of tune at points!” or “This has to be a developing demo or an album of first takes”, crossing over into the antonym of my initial conception of this heartfelt act’s work. Honesty Folk took me on the journey yet again, expanding my understanding of what it means to appropriate your message as a Christian. We’ll get into that in a bit.
Folk punk comes in many different flavors, although it is true they are a dime-a-dozen, there are some that try push their sound to give their meaningful messages an appropriate auditory vessel. Honesty Folk avoids cliche chord progressions and obligatory catchy choruses whilst maintaining its folk-born simplicity; a single acoustic guitar and a man pouring out his heart through the vocal delivery of melodic poetry (note there is a violin during “Trainwreck” and a couple samples). The guitar work is comparable to folk acts like Paul Baribeau: strumming at breakneck speed, soulful melodies, all seamlessly blended within dynamics that will speed up your heart rate from excitement or from anxiously repealing the lump in your throat. The vocals provide a crucial staple in the music’s unique sound, with yell-sing-talk delivery reminiscent of Modest Mouse and mewithoutYou to loveable vibrato-ed howl’s that remind one somewhat of the unlikely combination of the howl of a lonesome canine and Larry the Cucumber singing “The Water Buffalo Song” an octave lower (a combination I thoroughly enjoy, but would never expect). The opening track “Surgical Extraction” is an excellent overture: the initial speed of the guitar appropriately conveying the opening cry to leave a state of emptiness and complacency; the slowing of the tempo, drop of dynamics, the crescendo of the vibrato-rich line “I guess I’ll crawl home” fading into several seconds of silence. It’s rare to find artist’s who wish to incorporate elements in their albums such as foreshadowing in the music and lyrics of the first song, thus bringing together six separate songs into a unified, complete work. If intro tracks have been missing anything, it’s exactly what Self Proclaimed Narcissist has brought to the table, not only here, but in his full-length Hanging Man as well, further reflecting a bit of professionalism within a mid-lo-fi context.
The songs within this album are ordered in a way to make you up to be completely raw by the end of the 20 minutes. If you were to chart out the progression of the tracks you’d find a gradual decline in energy, from songs of travelling to escape dark feelings only to find them within the insincerity of acquaintances and repressed memories relentlessly demanding the forefront of focus. The music reflects the trend respectively.
“Trainwreck”, my personal favorite track, takes my heart out of my chest and puts it before my eyes, forcing introspection through sympathetic depression as the Breaking Bad sample shows a rejection of forgiveness, with Erik Carson repeating, “I can’t let go of your memory.” It’s the pinnacle of what this album seeks to achieve: honesty. Not an second of this album seeks to fit any expectation but devotion to sincerity in its desired message. “90 lb. Wuss” contains a direct proclamation of the Christian faith and how they coincide with punk rock ideals, while the following track, “Shallow Water”, goes as far as to use what is considered “vulgarity” to communicate the frustration of doubt and beliefs as a whole (basically, he swears). This challenged the foundation of my character as a Christian, thinking, “Wait, I thought Christians aren’t supposed to swear!” This type of thinking closes out the integrity aspect of my faith as mentioned in that verse I put at the top from Proverbs. To be clear, I do not condone swearing, nor does the Bible condone foul language and discourse, but it is Biblical to be honest. The context the lyric is placed within the song shows a place even the most devout Christians have been: disbelief. Self Proclaimed Narcissist merely is sincere of his feelings of doubt, he’s honest about them, just as his album title suggests. The following song “I Am Narcissist” even goes to say how ashamed he feels when the people he cares for finds the truthful feelings he has and are upset because of those feelings. I feel that Carson had this well in mind when he wrote the words: he would stir up controversy based on how he truly feels, but it would be a denial of integrity, in other words dishonest, to say anything less than what was sung. “Trainwreck’s” sample from Breaking Bad also contains a couple swear words, but within the context the meaning is captured purely. The only thing I can compare this level of honesty to would be A Plea for Purging’s song “Depravity”, which ends in a monologue of a renounced faith (which is, in my opinion, darker and more intense than the use of a few swear words). Both “Trainwreck” and “Depravity” do not sacrifice lyrical content for the sake of conveying honesty and sympathy for those who feel the same.
The vocabulary discernment aside, the album is well-written lyrically, overflowing with various analogies, from animals to drug use to facial features, creating an interesting, albeit random, spectrum of imagery. Travelling and meeting new people are topics easily spoken of; faith, death, and doubt sparks fire in hearts and wells water in eyes. This album is intensely personal, especially when the conversations portrayed in the two samples dig into the heaviest of matters. I must scrutinize on a minor issue a bit, however, as there are some references to a card game, Magic: The Gathering, which are obscure to those of us left out of the loop.
Overall: Self Proclaimed Narcissist’s Honesty Folk EP delivers precisely what the title suggests: genuine honesty. The six songs could almost be considered a concept album, as they are lyrically and musically united to convey and encourage sincerity. You’ll be consumed by up-beat guitar riffs, lines to yell and cry along with, and insight of the eyes of another human being, prime to ponder and envelope one’s thoughts feelings upon. Albeit, rough, mid-fi stylings and abrasive themes of drugs and a little mild language may put off a few listeners, but the honesty remains and the message to embrace it is clear as day. Honesty Folk EP is a $5 digital download on Bandcamp, and it comes with a bonus track! I bought a physical copy directly from Self Proclaimed Narcissist, it’s been well worth the investment.
RIYL: Destroy Nate Allen, Insomniac Folklore, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Modest Mouse