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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

P.O.S. -- Never Better


One October day in 2010, I was trying to youtube "P.O.D." and I accidentally typed in "P.O.S." This is how I discovered the rap output of Stefon Alexander, under the stage name, P.O.S. The song I heard, "Get Smokes," isn't close to my favorite from Never Better, the album where it finds its home, but it was good enough to drive me to immediately seek out Never Better.
You've probably noticed I haven't reviewed a ton of rap albums. I've generally bought singles over albums in that genre, and I've never made any secret that my favorite genre of music is rock. With that said, Never Better is my favorite rap album, and I'm not sure if it's even close. I felt an affinity to Alexander's attitude on "Get Smokes," but I felt complete connection almost immediately after putting Never Better into my player.

The album begins with "Let It Rattle," which contains my favorite opening line of any album I have ever heard, and Jimmy Carter was in office the year I was born. I shared "Let It Rattle"with an old schoolmate who listens to rap almost exclusively, and he described it as getting a bucket of cold water splashed in your face when you're asleep in your bed. There's no going back to sleep after this stunning opener, which lays out P.O.S.'s modus operandi: big, unique percussion, a leaning toward organic instrumentation, Alexander's unique lyrical perspective and delivery, and blood, fresh life, punk energy. There's a huge vibe of resistance, timeless resistance against conformity, any oppressive force, other people's expectations, whatever is attempting to stop you from being you. There's so much life in this album--Never Better might be the most lived in album I've heard. It features numerous guest appearances by P.O.S.' Doomtree collective mates, as well as others, and it sounds like they are all in the same house, or on the same inner-city Minneapolis street. And the pacing--as soon as "Let It Rattle" ends, the hyperactive "Drumroll" starts off with a Cowboy Bebop reference and someone killing a snare drum.

Yet, later on, particularly in its back half, P.O.S. is able to venture to some meditative, far more chill places. Never Better never gets boring for a second, moving, shifting, bleeding, breathing, changing continuously, feeling like a transformative, non-compromising journey from beginning to end. The album flow is incredible.
Oh, but I have to make a confession. If you've been reading these things long enough, you probably also know that I struggle with depression. The day I purchased Never Better was a particularly rough one. My entire life up to that time, I had struggled with the idea that anytime I was experiencing a moment of happiness, there would have to be a horrible come down. If everything was good, then everything would soon have to be bad, everything would have to come crashing down. I got off of work that day, and walked down the street to Forest Park, lied next to the artificial fishing lake, pulled out my discman (if you don't know what a discman is, it was a way of listening to music), popped in Never Better, and put on my headphones. Once that cold water hit my face in the fading light of the late October sun, I found myself standing and walking to the titular forest of the park. My wife and son weren't due to pick me up for a couple of hours, and I had no reason not to follow my directional muse. I wandered aimlessly through the woods, until the woods ended, and I was stepping through a mysteriously placed pasture, full of antennas. I hopped a couple fences, and soon found myself in a subdivision. After following several streets and turning wherever the spirit moved me, I ended up on a strangely familiar one. Suddenly, I realized this was a street one of my best friends lived on, and that his mom still lived there. I went by to pay her a visit, P.O.S. still blasting in my ears. When I reached the driveway, I noticed his sister sitting on the patio, smoking a cigarette. His mom wasn't home, but I passed on my well wishes. I took this street to the highway, got my bearings, and started back toward my long-shut down office to wait for my ride. As I made this last leg of the trip, I suddenly said out loud, "Things can stay good." It was something that had never occurred to me before that moment. I repeated the phrase again and again, like a mantra, and then P.O.S.' "Purexed" began. P.O.S. uses a vast amount of adult language in "Purexed," but this video of him performing the song sans profanity at the Minnesota State Fair, with his son sitting behind him in this family friendly environment, yet still somehow conveying the message and feeling of the song exactly as he did on record, won me over as a fan for life.

For me, Never Better is vital.

2009 Rhymesayers Entertainment
1. Let It Rattle 3:33
2. Drumroll (We're All Thirsty)" (featuring Doomtree) 2:37
3. Savion Glover 2:19
4. Purexed 3:24
5. Graves (We Wrote the Book) 3:14
6. Goodbye 3:07
7. Get Smokes (featuring Jessy Greene) 2:38
8. Been Afraid 3:39
9. Low Light Low Life" (featuring Sims, Cecil Otter, and Dessa) 3:14
10. The Basics (Alright) 3:23
11. Out of Category 3:16
12. Optimist (We Are Not for Them) 3:19
13. Terrorish (featuring Jason Shevchuk) 2:13
14. Never Better (featuring Judah Nagler) 4:03
15. The Brave and the Snake (ends at 3:53, followed by hidden track, "Hand Made Hand Gun," featuring Astronautalis) 11:51

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