Given his apparent distaste for genre confinements since the days of the beloved Bon Iver – which have seen him tackle post-rock with Volcano Choir, play a key role in Kanye West’s Yeezus and lend his hand to numerous other projects – it should come as no surprise that Justin Vernon has now finally embarked on his own hip-hop project. Unfortunately he ain’t spittin’ bars just yet but he need not when one of the other names behind this mysterious Jason Feathers personality is alternative rapper Astronautalis who assumes the character of Creflo/Jason Feathers. Yup, they’ve each got their own characters – Vernon is Ephasis the ‘heavily-seasoned, guitar-crooning lost-cowboy’ while former Bon Iver drummer S. Carey plays ‘a drummer-hype-piano-man all in one’ named Toothpick. It’s also believed that Ryan Olson of Gayngs produced and laid down bass for the record, however for some reason the poor guy doesn’t even get his own character name. Always the bassist, isn’t it?
There’s a lot to take in with De Oro. For starters there are three different voices here vying for attention and all are quite the departure from what we’re used to from their makers. For starters Vernon’s trademark falsetto is noticeably absent throughout, preferring instead to stay within his baritone range and break free for an exceptional roar on occasion. Astronautalis’ intoxicated-pirate rapping style is nowhere to be seen, his voice being pitch-shifted down to Captain Murphy levels for ultimate menace while Carey’s normally smooth and clear vocal is heavily caked in auto-tune. Each serve their purpose magnificently however and some of the record’s finest moments come when all three shine together.
The music which serves as the group’s platform for their alcohol-soaked tales is no less eclectic right from the galloping opening beat of ‘Leave Your Stain’ to the dirty guitar feedback of ‘Gold Standard’, the only common trait being that everything here sounds so downright filthy. Even the prettier moments such as ‘Sacred Math’s piano melodies – which are reminiscent of the swirling layers of Carey’s solo work – seem stripped of their beauty, tainted from Creflo’s graphic retelling of old spring break stories which dominated the track’s first half.
Everything sounds so ugly and yet it is all so appealing, thanks to the straight faces displayed throughout. Not a snigger is detected even as Toothpick sings ‘Young As Fuck’s mindless chorus before being upstaged by Ephasis’ surprisingly Hendrix-like guitar solo or Creflo proudly repeats “brand new heels but I love the lips/even though she got some herpes on it” in ‘Hot Forever’. De Oro simply offers a wonderfully seedy world of hedonism and debauchery.