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For his sixth album as Pictureplane, Travis Egedy owns the identity that's been his to claim all along: Degenerate. Via music, painting, fashion, and DIY events that combine all three, he's spent a decade investigating the esoteric, embracing the paranormal, and otherwise riding for the lunatic fringe. Now, Degenerate finds our anti-hero standing tall on the periphery of polite society, addressing his fellow outsiders over a booming soundtrack that merges electronic body music, industrial hip-hop, gauzy '90s New Age, and gothic darkwave. If 2015's Technomancer confronted the ways our lives are merging with external technological forces, this album moves inward, examining how pain can cause the soul to either atrophy or—in Egedy's case—thrive.
We open on a dystopia that's oddly familiar. The squelching synth of "Pit Viper" surges forth like venom catching a pulse as Egedy sings, "I'm lurking for something to get my mind off nothing / Abuse of power comes as no surprise, world on fire, an epitaph for a dying empire." The next scene is no less unsettling as "Gang Stalker" serves up pure paranoia in both message and its relentless, vintage-NIN-evoking beat. Later, "Disasters of War," named after the grisly Francisco Goya print series, depicts disconnect in our violent world: "We sit pretty with our empathy, black-painted shells, youth cast under a spell." But Degenerate soon reveals alternate paths through the murk. We find solidarity on "Sex Trigger (Burn in Heaven)," where Goth Boi Clique founder Wicca Phase Springs Eternal trades lines with Egedy over a beautifully burnt soundscape. And with "BDSM," there's escape—into a soft-focus fantasy of whips, synths, discipline, and drums.
Pain was a recurring theme in the two-plus years that Egedy made Degenerate in his Brooklyn garage studio. Even as he honed his dark art, embracing both new tech (FL Studio, finally) and old toys (he found the Yamaha keyboard he made his first beats on, via eBay), he saw parts of the DIY community that inspired that art unravel in terrible ways. Oakland's Ghost Ship fire not only took people Egedy knew, it led to the hostile police shutdown of the DIY space he came up in, Denver's Rhinoceropolis. That loss, in turn, factored into the suicide of dear scene compatriot Colin Ward—the kaleidoscopic, breakbeat-driven "Color Spectrum (Tokyo Drift)," which features emo-trap upstart smrtdeath, is a tribute to his magical spirt. Another friend passed too: GBC's shining star Lil Peep, all of which underscored the adversity that artists face in America's rapidly gentrifying cities, from economic hardship to lack of access to safe spaces and health services.
Degenerate does mourn, getting lost in the crystalline jungle of "Obsidian Blade" and blissing out amid echoing keys in "Intoxicate," but it doesn't acquiesce. In defending his beloved culture online, Egedy became a target for alt-right trolls who'd call his dead colleagues "degenerates"—the same term the Nazis used to debase abstract artists. On this album's thumping title track, he reclaims the word as a badge of honor, something to distinguish truth-seekers from repressed squares. One song later, he's threatening to unleash freaks everywhere over the blown-out rap swagger of "Gatecrasher." And by the bleakly banging closer "White Flowers," Egedy's become some kind of renegade goth warrior: "My blood is like a glacier, living my life on a razor / I'm so erratic, wearing black and white like TV static." In the end, all that radical individualism is about inclusion: we're an entire race of degenerates waiting for the right moment to show our stripes.
1. Pit Viper 04:02
2. Gang Stalker 02:44
3. B.D.S.M 03:55
4. Disasters of War (it's what you're born for) 02:50
5. Color Spectrum (Tokyo Drift) Feat. Smrt Death 04:40
6. Obsidian Blade 04:09
7. Intoxicate 03:16
8. Sex Trigger (burn in heaven) FEAT. Wicca Phase Springs Eternal 03:24
9. Plague Technology 03:29
10. Degenerate 03:48
11. Gatecrasher 02:36
12. White Flowers 04:31