It would be almost impossible to write about Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting without mentioning DJ Screw, the Houston-based producer who invented the style of pitching his records way down and chopping the shit out of them. Screw died a decade ago this month of an overdose related to codeine, the main ingredient in syrup, the self-proclaimed opiate of choice to fully appreciate his music.
Pat Maherr is equally interested in stretching time and disorientation. Apparently more known for his Indignant Senility project where, among other things, he has deconstructed a number of Wagner records, Maherr also defaces hip hop tracks as Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting and shares a similar obsession with pitch control. Like top-shelf Screw productions, his latest album Bubblethug effuses a hallucinatory state that invites a heightened sense of focus. It’s when you move away from slurred tempos that the resemblance between the two starts to diverge. Where Screw chopped, EYYD mutilates, strangling attempting rappers and snuffing out accomplice drum designs.
The 13 numerically named tracks on Bubblethug obscure distinction between deconstruction and remix. Maherr obliterates his source material, then uses the shrapnel as a base. The reinterpretation is so deliberately obfuscated, it’s just as easy to approach these as original constructions. The rappers, who at times sound like a really faded Biz Markie or Big Pokey freestyling from the bottom of a cave, are the only giveaway that these tracks once enjoyed other lives. Gutted of their insides, it’s almost like Maherr injects each session with a tranquilizer and monitors as the floundering O.G.s mutate into synchronized deep bass dives. As the lyricists falter, sinister melodies make soft returns and Ant Banks-like productions warp and waddle. He’s as likely to amplify certain fragments of an existing track as to let the air out completely. Moody and sedated, EYYD tracks tend to floss for a minute and then swerve off the road.
The amount of life left in these decrepit street anthems fluctuates wildly. On the closer, Maherr closes in on William Basinski turf as a wobbly drum pattern corrodes into the abyss. Track No. 6 is a full incursion into hypnosis — competing elements drop in and tune out, caroming off each other to the point of simulating a ride on rusting 22’s, blown-out system in-tow, even as you sit motionless. In other spots, a sampled guitar line is mangled into a shape similar to the one on CanOx’s “Raspberry Fields”, while a Big Moe-type tries to survive the hook. Emblematic of Bubblethug as a whole, Maherr almost lets you make out the words, but never spells things out. Each track is driven by what is almost heard. By what is lurking.
It’s telling then, that the only words that that can be easily understood is a variation of the mandate made famous by Too Short: “I get in where I fit in.” Maherr has found his place objectifying the erosion of hip hop, in the process making an authoritative statement on its demise — an album like Hip Hop is Dead seems trite in comparison. These are exploratory lanes. I’m even tempted to use the adjective “fresh” with a straight face.
In a recent New York Times article about Screw’s influence, Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting was overlooked. And that’s unfortunate, really, because Bubblethug is easily the most insightful twist on Screw’s concoction that I’ve heard. By taking the premise of Screw music and literally running it into the ground, Pat Maherr has made one of the records of 2010.