Four Fists (P.O.S x Astronautalis)
Sometimes the best way for artists to keep pushing ahead is to remember who their people are –especially when they're the ones they've known for ages and have been itching to work with from the very start. Stef Alexander and Andy Bothwell, respectively known as P.O.S and Astronautalis, have been making guest appearances on each other's records for over ten years, and date their friendship back even further. That makes a collaborative project like Four Fists both inevitable and necessary at the same time: it's the team-up of two of Minneapolis' most stylistically fearless artists, both of whom simultaneously inhabit the worlds of hip-hop and indie-punk in a way that the Twin Cities music community has always welcomed. "This is something Stef and I have been working on and dreaming about since we became friends in 2004," says Andy, who moved to Stef's Minneapolis stomping grounds in 2011. Two years later, the first Four Fists 7" offered up two sides of finger-clenching post-hardcore for hip-hop heads, showcasing their powers as MCs, vocalists, producers, and songwriters alike. But the span between 2013 and the new album's creation saw a string of life changes, from Andy's marriage to Stef's struggles with kidney failure to the state of social justice in the world, that shifted both artists' perspectives. Any eventual full-length Four Fists release would have to account for the artists growing from young-and-hungry firebrands into career musicians with increasingly adult outlooks. But the duo hasn't grown complacent – in fact, 6666 pools not just their talents but their experience to create a work that bristles with a collective tension. "It's way easier working with friends," says Stef. "It gets your juice moving quick. I think with what's happened with our pairing, we have little chunks of each other that don't come out in our own music." That freed them up to build, tear down, rework, and upend their ideas, with the guiding hand of Dutch producer/remixer Subp Yao giving them the leeway to destroy their beats in order to make them even stronger. What that gave them is a sound that bumps hard while still seething with a certain determination, building off a mutual recognition of their strengths that bolsters their resolve. You can hear it in cuts like opener "Nobody's Biz," a backbreaking drumline run through with entreaties to action ("It's fucked up, we all know it baby/the question is, why the fuck we waitin'?"), or the reflective chiptune burble of "G.D.F.R." and its attempted reckoning with how these two artists even made it to where they are. In other words, 6666 bangs, but in the service of something greater than entry-level defiance. There's a vibe that seems to draw from the life of The Clash's Joe Strummer, who's namechecked more than once on the album as a young punk iconoclast growing into a reflective humanist. The protests still hold weight: cops threaten even the law-abiding, hustlers don't do enough to spread the wealth, and there's no point waiting for someone to save you. But amidst all the tension and anxiety that looms in the background, there's the sense that everything runs on a secular version of the Serenity Prayer: focus on bettering the situations you can control, learn to help yourself and others in the situations you don't, and give listeners the sounds they need to endure both.
Doomtree co-founder, punk philosopher and lyrical bomb-thrower Stefon Alexander, aka P.O.S, makes tight, declamatory music that builds on the Minneapolis-bred rapper and producer’s penchant for grinding beats and radical lyrics. Known for welding hip-hop with guitar squalls, screamed vocals, and futuristic beats fit for a Berlin nightclub, P.O.S steps even further into genre-blurring territory with Chill, dummy, his first official release with Doomtree Records since his 2004 debut Ipecac Neat. The album reflects on the past three years since a near-fatal kidney transplant sidelined him from making music and deals with the the difficulties of trying to maintain peace of mind and navigate through a confusing world which is becoming increasingly more alienating. P.O.S’ production fingerprints are all over this one as he maneuvers through a wide range of sprawling beats contributed by himself, usual suspects Lazerbeak and Ryan Olson, and newcomers Cory Grindberg and Makr. Several friends touch down along the way to offer up biting commentary and varying points of view (Allan Kingdom, Astronautalis, Kathleen Hanna, Justin Vernon, Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, and Lady Midnight to name a few), but the album never suffers from an oversaturation of scattered voices, instead using everyone’s individual ethos and strengths to build a unifying call to arms. The result is P.O.S’ most bold, honest, and daring work to date, so Chill, dummy.
Doomtree started as a mess of friends in Minneapolis, fooling around after school, trying to make music without reading the manual. The group had varied tastes—rap, punk, indie rock, pop—so the music they made together often bore the toolmarks of several styles. When they had enough songs, they booked some shows. They made friends with the dudes at Kinkos to print up flyers. They burned some CDs to sell. The shows got bigger. Of necessity, Doomtree’s seven members (Cecil Otter, Dessa, Lazerbeak, Mike Mictlan, P.O.S, Paper Tiger, and Sims) figured out how to run a small business. Lazerbeak’s garage became the merchandise warehouse; P.O.S’ mom’s basement became the webstore. A decade and fifty releases later, it’s all properly official—Doomtree is now a real, live label with international distribution—but not that much has changed. Doomtree still partners with people who aren’t jerks. If members can’t find something they need, they make it themselves. Although each member has a career as a solo artist, every so often the whole crew convenes to make a collaborative record as a group.
The most recent Doomtree record is called All Hands. The title nods to the nautical rally cry, “All hands on deck,” and the album stands as the most collaborative and cohesive project the crew has yet produced. New Noise Magazine called the record, “their most immediately catchy work yet…easily a career high.” After an interview at this year’s SXSW, Fast Company Magazine wrote, “their beats are fiercely contemporary, and the five rappers…are ferocious wordsmiths with forward-thinking rhymes.” It was made by old friends who’ve tuned their craft, both together and individually, for over a decade. And it shows. Both the catchiest and densest album in the group’s catalog, All Hands adeptly walks a tightrope of immediately memorable hooks and in-depth lyricism that rewards repeated listens. The result is equally worthy of up-to-11 trunk-rattling drives as it is late-night headphone sessions.