81355, “This Time I’ll Be of Use”
This Time I’ll Be of Use
I think it was around this time last year that people were beginning to stop asking each other how much longer they thought the pandemic was going to last and started accepting the long-term uncertainties of the future. Perhaps as an extension of that, those of us cooped up at home with nothing better to do—after worrying about many, many other things first—began fretting about how this would impact the art that came out of this indefinite period. It seems like our fears about what types of movies would immediately be streamlined into production came true, while the term “quarantine album” has given us all kinds of covers collections and Bandcamp-exclusive B-sides understandably taking the place of a focused collection of new material, as well as tone deaf (in more ways than one) ska elegies and other misguided interpretations of the social justice movement that ramped up after the murder of George Floyd.
This Time I’ll Be of Use, however, is a more promising look at what the year after the year spent indoors may have in store. The debut album from Sirius Blvck, Oreo Jones, and David “Moose” Adamson as 81355—pronounced “Bless,” riffing on the naming conventions employed by their label, Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner’s 37d03d, which is “PEOPLE” upside down—is the first real evidence I’ve heard of all this downtime put to good use on a record. At eight songs just under 30 minutes, it feels familiarly claustrophobic while filling that space with a ceaseless flow of the same types of reflections on stolen land and minimum wages (not to mention declarations of “Free Palestine”) we’ve all engaged in these past 15 months over continually innovative sounds. It feels like the work of artists who embraced the quote-unquote new normal early on and gave themselves the space needed to whittle down whatever ideas they had into an airtight capsule of the occasional moment of slow exhalation in a period of hyperventilation, offering up the record’s title as a mantra for re-entering society while ensuring each track is of use to the project’s greater purpose.
There’s something immediately entrancing about the combination of lullaby instrumentation and Biblical imagery in the very beginning of album opener and lead single “Capstone,” though I think it’s the bass dropping on the off-beat almost exactly 30 seconds in which is what sells the track and even sets the tone for the rest of the record. It’s danceable, borrowing foundational elements from conventional hip-hop, while veering into a similar field of avant-garde group-rap dynamic mastered by Injury Reserve on their LP, albeit in a much more lyrically and instrumentally controlled manner. I was initially shocked when I made the connection that Adamson was the brains behind Jookabox—a Man Man–esque artifact from the tail end of the indie-rock freak folk boom—until I had the realization that they were one of the few bands in that period that kept the movement feeling fresh. Eyes of the Fly feels like a proper precedent to This Time I’ll Be of Use: a much needed record in its time and one that’ll likely continue to feel like it exists outside of time for years to come.