Serengeti and Polyphonic’s Terradactyl is an album about place—losing place, mostly, struggling to find it again, and succumbing to the fact that it’s cold, and surprisingly lonely, when you’re dressed in the human condition. Serengeti, heretofore a master of on-record character acting, appears here as his most vulnerable self: someone wedged between a dream and a series of day-jobs, between a failed marriage and raising new life, inside of a large family with fractured ties, and split between two distinct racial/economic paradigms. His cracked abstractions (this is no “poor-me” man’s emo diary) paint him as homeless, at times literally, while weaving their meaning into the much larger loom of universal displacement. And as on this duo’s 2007 debut, Don’t Give Up, worldly beat-maestro Polyphonic is on hand to make beauty out of so much madness.
Ironically, Terradactyl, begins with “Bon Voyage,” digital tones bouncing into the foreground, then expanding into a frantic space-scape beneath Geti’s streaming vitriol toward a drug-abusing friend. “Playing in Subway Stations,” is idyllically calm by comparison: while rich synth-bass burbles alongside acoustic guitar and timpani drums, Geti and New Zealander Renee-Louise Carafice croon a bittersweet rendering of love’s transience. On “Move!,” clacking percussives rearrange themselves to an unknown cue, while the words follow suit by unraveling abstract yarns about motion. The live cello on instant standout “My Negativity” recalls Float-era Aesop Rock (albeit, re-produced by Tony Hoffer), with Geti delivering a pre-apocalyptic warning drenched in strange imagery. “Cleveland” cuts its own path between gorgeous ratcheting sounds, icy chromed vocals and quiet rap.
One of the album’s best follows: “Steroids,” featuring Adam “doseone” Drucker. In a Madvillain moment, Serengeti is run-on gritty in the third person, telling a surreal tale of escapism and mistrust, while Polyphonic’s all harmonica jazz-snap groove. As the music surges into crazy land, the erstwhile voice of Subtle and Themselves executes a decidedly buff verse. Next, “Patiently” finds Geti’s words blown out over big bass and digital bits, while on “Call the Law,” he manically skewers the black rap male stereotype. Geti trades lines about love with another legend, Buck 65, on the dank and dubby “La La Lala,” and “My Patriotism” continues the odd upbeat bent, where atop sampled squeeze-box and a live mandolin mimicking African highlife, Geti lays everyman verse: “Winners win and raise hip kids/ Poor people? Day-gigs for the rest of your life.”
Carafice returns for “Dawn Under The Bridge,” a ghostly duet that expands the theme of homelessness over bossa nova and baroque harp. Eventually, the beat gets wild and sharp, oscillating the song’s specter into indiscernible lines and plucked strings. Terradactyl’s final moments play out on “Calliope,” wherein Serengeti rewrites his own history through a series of “what ifs.” He collects himself audibly between lines, but as Polyphonic’s score intensifies, the lyrical cynicism becomes shouting, and Serengeti’s voice is eventually consumed. As the song burns out, the outdoors rushes in, and we find ourselves not unlike our narrator: out in some public place, stripped to our skivvies.
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