Crossworm is almost annoyingly talented. Musician, artist, poet, and essayist, he’s seemingly a potential threat in almost any artistic medium you drop him into. To that end, in what I can only assume is an attempt to make the job of reviewers more difficult, he recently dropped his new project “Drowning In Restricted Thought”, a completely self-produced book/album/visual art collection that redefines the term “ambitious”.
A Canadian import, Crossworm self-identifies musically as a “Dirtcore” artist, a genre he describes as a mix between Hip Hop, Punk and EDM, which also happens to be the name of his label imprint. Operating under the moniker since 1998, he’s established a substantial following in many of the niche and emerging quasi-communities that have grown in the fractured aftermath of Big Musics’ failings.
Crossworm’s music is a strong mix of violent imagery, anthemic chorus’s, introspection and societal critique told from the voice of the proletariat. The album opens with a heavy, distorted guitar riff and Crossworm’s strident vocals declaring that he wants to “spill his guts out on the page”. It’s a tone setting moment for the album.
“Kingslayer” follows the intro and finds Crossworm playing with and inverting Pop/EDM tropes in what feels like a gigantic middle finger to “tastemakers” in the popular music scene. It’s particularly potent because the result ends up actually being a remarkably catchy track whose atonal sing-song synthy hook will inevitably end up stuck in your head.
“Police State” is exactly the anti-government anthem the name suggests, mixing bluesy vocals over a pulsing bassline. Although the verses are written with a rebellious, ‘power-to-the-people’ bravado, Crossworm’s vocals on the opening and chorus are underpinned with a tone of exasperation maybe bordering on exhaustion. There’s an easily overlooked complexity to this dichotomy, as he is able to suggest both the will for uprising and the magnitude of the difficulty or perhaps near-futility in attempting to do so. That’s a level of nuance and realism in songcraft very rarely seen on a track of this nature, and sets it apart from the slew of cookie-cutter “fuck the government” songs listeners are bombarded with these days.
“Glory” is perhaps the highlight of the album. A charging uptempo anthem, you almost can’t listen to it without imagining it being performed live to a room full of kids jumping and pumping their fists in rhythm while singing along at the top of their lungs. It’s absolutely infectious.
“Drowning In Restricted Thought” is more than an album however. Initially released with a limited edition fully illustrated hardcover book of lyrics, poems and essays (now available in electronic PDF), it needs to be understood in a broader context than just the music.
The visual art feels a bit like Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo had a baby who was raised on a steady diet of H.P. Lovecraft stories and kaleidoscopes full of muted colored glass. It vacillates from disturbing to endearing to introspective, frequently in the same piece. From whimsical to haunting each illustration is an impactful moment challenging the viewer to process the incongruencies in color, imagery and expectation.
If the book was simply a collection of these incredibly rich illustrations, that would be more than enough for any avid art lover, however the illustrations are matched to even more content. The first third of the book is the lyrics to the songs on the album, and including them was a smart move on Crossworms part. His writing is layered and more complex than listeners might at first realize, and including the lyrics allows readers to delve deeper into the meanings of the songs.
The second third of the book is a collection of poems. As a poet, Crossworm is refreshingly without pretension. It has become the fashion of modern poets to eschew anything even remotely resembling structure in a vain attempt at seeming “experimental”, and although some of the pieces are fairly structureless, Crossworm clearly understands and uses concepts like meter and rhymescheme. This allows his pieces without structure to actually feel interesting and unique, rather than blurred, vainglorious abstractions.
Foreign sweat drips on your face, stinging your eyes.
Facial hair causes a rash in innocent places – The Shrine
“The Shrine” is a particularly stirring and potentially dangerous piece to write in today’s hyper PC climate. A visceral and direct look at rape, it’s aftermath, and the ensuing coping mechanisms it can be interpreted at face value, or alternatively seen as a commentary on music and cultural exploitation told through an extremely volatile metaphor. Again, Crossworm’s talent for nuance and intentional ambiguity create an intellectually provoking moment for his audience.
The final third of the book is a collection of short form essays examining human nature and our motivations. Each are exceptionally well written and conceived, although with a specific viewpoint. These are the least interpretive part of the project. Here Crossworm is speaking much more directly as he outlines his understandings of the human condition and our potential. Importantly, he manages to keep from falling off the cliff into preachy/guru territory and instead walks a line between intellectual authority and humility that keeps his message feeling authentic and untainted by agenda; no small feat.
Taken as a whole “Drowning In Restricted Thought” is a lot to digest. Crossworm is intentionally flooding his audience’s capacity to consume art on various levels simultaneously. In doing so the audience inevitably finds themselves pushed into unexpected places beyond their normal confines. Some of those places will scare, offend and alienate some listeners. Some of those places will inspire others. For Crossworm, it seems more important to provoke a genuine reaction from his audience, than to garner blind adoration from them. If authenticity is the highest measure of an artist, then Crossworm scores exceptionally high. He is undoubtedly not for everyone. “Dirtcore” is hardly an inherently inclusive descriptor, but for those seeking unabashed honesty from an artist who’s willing to challenge them, this project will resonate on many levels.
“Drowning In Restricted Thought”, it’s accompanying book and more are available at http://crossworm.net.