LISTENING POST: Rain Machine—“Smiling Black Faces”

Kyp+Heidi
Rain Machine's Heidi Ferrell (l) and Kyp Malone

Kyp Malone has an unusual voice.  It’s unusual in that most black male singers are going for
mellifluousness, and I don’t think anyone would describe Kyp’s voice that way.

But that’s not to say his voice isn’t affecting, because it
is.  One reviewer described his
voice as  “soulful quiver,” and
that’s more in the zone of what’s happening here: Vocally, he quivers,
scratches, howls, bleats and screams its way through songs.  Thing is, he pulls it off.

I’d seen Kyp perform solo only twice before I saw him with
his band Rain Machine back in September. 
The first time was at BAM, along with Dragons of Zynth and Power
Douglas
.  The other time was at the
URB Alt Festival in either 2007 or 2008. 
Only knowing about him from TV On The Radio fame, I remember thinking,
“Okay, he’s odd.”  Odd because he
didn’t quite fit any of my assumptions about what a black man doing rock is
supposed to sound like. I know what you’re thinking now: “But, Rob, you’re
supposed to be all about this expansive view of blackness, of busting down
stereotypes, and here you are trying to put this man into a box!”

I know.  And I
had to check myself on that.

Which is why it took me a minute—repeated
listenings, really—to get my Kyp-closeup-guitar arms/head/ears around what’s happening on this
album.  I’m glad I took the time.

What I can say is that Kyp has crafted a musical vehicle
that fits his voice perfectly.  The
band he’s assembled provides a great frame for his songs and his singing.  Musically, the album maintains a lo-fi
sound that veers into indie-acoustic territory, as on “New Last Name.”
Throughout the album, it’s Kyp’s bookishness that shines through. His songs are
descriptive, literate, and full of raw emotion.  It’s an honesty that I’ve come to find refreshing. He is the
nerd ascendant.

At the BAM show, I remember that he made a passing comment,
something to the effect that “It’s really great to see this many black people
in the audience.”  It’s what I’ve
always said about black rockers: They want black people to check out and
appreciate their music, too.

And apparently, he’s not afraid to address the issue of race
either when it comes to his audiences or how he sees current events that
transpire.  When I really listened
to “Smiling Black Faces,” I was like, “Did he just mention Sean Bell?”  For those of you who don’t recognize the
name, he was the young man who was killed by police officers on the eve of his
wedding because they thought that he and the other three black men in the car
were armed.  They were tragically
mistaken
.

The song confronts poverty and injustice, but is really an
anthem for humanity—black humanity. 
It pulls no punches, and is ultimately a powerful song of hope.  Before you listen to the song, take a
minute to read the lyrics.  Both the lyrics and the song are after the jump.

Smiling Black Faces

I see slow genocide,
Bodies strung like tanning hides,
oh and the fly covered babys,
and in the mirror love
I see another sun,
I will try hard to smile back at me.
It's no burnt cork affair,
It's no undue despair,
I know a joy that's mocked
and I know a grief.
I know a slave name
and I know a cold shame!!
and I know I cried in disbelief!
But I see a porno star
loaded on alcohal,
I see a rolling stone,
And I see a creep,
Comin to on my knees,
Empty hands full of all I will keep!

Smiling black faces,
Can anyone see?
Is anything radical in wantin' to be?

And on his wedding day
they took Sean Bell away,
cops let their bullets spray
in the same city where I am a man.
And when the gavel fell
over that bloody hell
everyone walked away
no one even got canned!
This nations comprimised
just shrugged and turned it's eyes
Some maybe shook their heads and muttered
"What a shame…"
But his body's
My body's
Your bodies could die in pain!!!

Smiling black faces
Is anyone free?
Is anything radical
In wantin' to be?
But I see love breakin through,
Right through the face of cool.

Time to heed Nelsons call,
Not to let self stay small,
Know we can conquor all of this bullshit
If we know where we stand.
Square on the side of love,
Know how to arm a dove,
I know I want to sing
So I know I can.
And if there are joys to come,
If there is movin' on,
If there is love abounding let it sustain
Oh coo coo brown babe,
Black baby with my last name!!

And I can see Smiling Black
Faces!!
I can see Smiling Black Faces!!
I can see Shineing Black Faces!!
Keepin their teeth,
Sayin fuck grief,
What a release!!

Rain Machine is a solid album from start to finish.  Some of the other standout songs are
“Give Blood,” “New Last Name,” and “Love Won’t Save You”.  And because it’s honest, you’ll feel
something after listening to it. 

 

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