ALBUM REVIEW: Open Mike Eagle - Anime, Trauma + Divorce
Cartoon Coping Mechanisms
Open Mike Eagle’s imagination felt like a world outside of himself on 2017’s Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. Reflecting on the demolition of the housing projects he grew up in, his lullaby bars and Dr Seuss delivery described scenes of childhood wonder over SFX straight from The Legend of Zelda. These fantasies were protective, casting spells to obscure the violence and absenteeism that underlay these early years while drawing attention to the sad realities of present-day gentrification.
On latest LP Anime, Trauma and Divorce, the steady rise of OME from schoolteacher to indie rap sage has left him at the end of a long road, adrift in the wake of mid-life crises and resurfaced trauma. ‘Everything Ends Last Year’ dwells upon the cancellation of his Comedy Central show at the crest of 2019, a year that saw him get divorced, move into his own place and spend a lot of his time in therapy, with the weight of all this culminating into the worn sigh of ‘it’s October and I’m tired.’ It’s a grounded moment on an album that can feel like a free-fall at times, as Mike unpacks his ordeal with the many voices of someone who has just begun to find the levity in some messy truths.
Opener ‘Death Parade’ sets this fledgling tone, with OME unwinding the trauma cycle in concise rhymes:
"that kid grew up
and messed his kid up
he fucked her shit up"
delivered over choppy, reversed samples that switch up intensity halfway with all the impact of ego-death. Insecurity and self-deprecation follow this up, with OME declaring himself an overthinking fool over tilted strings on 'Headass (Idiot Shinji), before lapsing into distorted vocals and fragile introspection amidst the soothing brass of ‘Bucciarati’, accompanied by Kari Faux’s gentle chorus. Both song titles reference anime characters, becoming the through-line for each of the disparate pieces of OME’s mind, from the divorcée trying to pick himself up with a new look and some push-ups to the kid that just wants to spend all of 2020 watching Adventure Time.
On ‘Sweatpants Spiderman’, Mike lays down a new formula for dad-bod rap with the mantra "tattoos / haircuts / gold chains / anime", approaching his forties with one foot slammed on the brakes, but behind these cartoon coping-mechanisms, an adult penchant for irony and darkness lingers. ‘Asa’s Bop’ features OME’s son on the chorus, repeating a mindless chant that pulls Mike out of a percussive spiral of shade cast at bank accounts and the infinitesimal payouts from streaming services to artists. Both an anxiety and a disdain towards money imbue this album, revealing the mindset of an independent rapper who lost his outré TV series to the whims of studio executives. ‘Wtf is Self Care’ extends this attitude to a breezy mistrust for buying happiness in the form of lifestyle products, even as he acknowledges the benefits of smoothies, joints and journalling. This cognitive dissonance unravels completely on ‘The Edge of New Clothes’, in which he channels the manic energy of Brad Pitt in Se7en into the arrival of that new Amazon package, while letting apathy replace the drama of giving a shit about anything anymore.
The album’s darkest point is also its least serious. Calling out Black Mirror for the episode he watched with his then-wife, over a beat as murky as a panic attack, OME blames the series for ruining his marriage and turning his life into a bizarre parody of itself. The line
"happy home go to hell ‘cause of tech shit
well my shit went to hell ’cause of Netflix"
even sounds like a Black Mirror plot, tracing a surreal line between comedy and pain, fact and fiction. But the power of recognising yourself onscreen also represents a moment of positivity on the freewheeling ‘I’m a Joestar (Black Power Fantasy)’. Imagining himself as a member of a kick-ass manga dynasty, he raps about his life as a carefree joyride through LA, laying out how "it’s a black rebrand / so draw it freehand", claiming anime for the escapist release it offers from the grim realities of racism in America.
The 2020 parallels on this album are striking, even as these tracks refer to events taking place a year ago. ‘Airplane Boneyard’ marks a return to earth and to sober reflections on ageing and flights untaken after the psychodrama of the album so far. But the final song, a loose freestyle between OME and his son after a snorkelling misadventure on a family holiday, is feels like a solid vantage on the past has finally been reached— jellyfish, saltwater, no therapy needed.
- 7.8 -
'Death Parade' / 'Bucciarati' / 'I’m a Joestar (Black Power Fantasy)'
Sam Harding is a student at York and an enthusiast of mosh pits. He is trying to marry music with writing but is running out of onomatopoeia. Life soundtrack includes underground rap and electronic bleep bloops.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a blog dedicated to platforming independent artists and small musicians from around the world. It was created by Ben Wheadon, a postgraduate literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
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