|Album Review: Pyramid Vritra – Indra|
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Hal Williams is one of the six degrees of separation between alternative acts like Homeboy Sandman and Jonwayne and the Odd Future collective; the Super 3 partner of Matt Martian operates solo as Pyramid Vritra under Stones Throw Records’ indie umbrella. He isn’t unaccustomed to unorthodox sound, in fact, he is an explorer of the unconventional, and he never walks over the same ground twice: his production in the present day refuses to acknowledge previous work like The Jet Age of Tomorrow or his free solo debut, PYRAMID. With Indra, Pyramid Vritra continues Hal’s sonic meiosis as he delves even deeper into abstract sound that may not even truly be representative of hip-hop. There is a complexity present that is almost certainly indicative of progression, if not complete evolution.
It its nearly impossible to fully appreciate this elaborate puzzle without first acknowledging its mythology. A quick Google search reveals the careful consideration put into creating Hal’s peculiar moniker. The name Pyramid Vritra can be split into two different parts: a pyramid is a structure with steep, sloping sides that are completely smooth and Vritra is a serpent-like, power-seeking deity in the Vedic religion, an early branch of Hinduism. Vritra was once the personification of drought and kept the waters of the world captive until he was slain by Indra, the god of rain and thunderstorms. In the artist’s own words, “there’s fluidity and a calm in the midst of complexity.” Such painstaking thought is the sign of a meticulous mind. Hal maneuvers in a rarefied air crowded with his own clustered ideas.
Pyramid Vritra doesn’t rap often, but when he does it’s a sort of monotonic ramble. He tucks his rhymes behind heavily layered walls of sound and peers out every so often to deliver magical tidbits of empirical truth like, “sold soul chasing meals, end up in the magazines / A has-been, broke and unemployed like the rest of us.” His raps come out like he’s quickly jotting them down for himself on a notepad in an attempt not to forget them. It’s all very stream-of-consciousness. Sometimes it happens quickly. Sometimes it happens slow and deliberately. But it almost always happens with each word tumbling over the next like a syllabic game of leapfrog. Even when the words don’t make any sense it sequence, it’s enchanting. Indra is more interested in sound than lyrics, and the voice is simply another tool to be utilized: the sonics reign as king in Hal’s retelling of this epic.
Indra is what happens when you allow creative thought processes to expand unimpeded by A&R roadblocks and major label saturation. Every second of it is fringe rap seeking to test the boundaries not only of the genre but of all wave frequencies. Each track is a different tile in a mosaic only those tiles are continuously shifting and changing to investigate sonics metaphysically. It attempts to challenge hip-hop at its foundation, even alternatively, and it does a remarkable job defying earthly convention. They could very easily be listening to this on Mars.
When Pyramid Vritra is at his weirdest, he’s at his best. Take, for instance, “Tea & Lemonade,” which serves as the closest thing to a lead single the album has. Amidst warped, warbling guitar riffs and squealing synths he jabbers in a hazy, throaty hum about God knows what. His words are not to be deciphered like a code they are to be ignored like white noise. They are simply another layer in his artistic tapestry, nothing more, nothing less. This is why Indra is so special: it weaves a web of sound that personifies the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” mantra, and indiscriminately tosses ingredients into a melting pot of tunes: a blended musical stew.
Indra is an exceptional achievement. It sees sounds as colors and paints a remarkable picture. Its abstract view of alt hip-hop will be off-putting to some, but those with a taste for the off-brand will be captivated. Pyramid Vritra gives Hal Williams the freedom to fully explore his own creativity, and with Stones Throw's backing, who knows what he'll be able to create. He is already restructuring rap to his whims. As he continues to evolve, there's no telling what he'll be tempted to redefine next. After all, Hal doesn't like to walk over the same ground twice; his next work might simply be ground breaking.