Norman experimental producer nurtures organic lo-fi sounds on latest hip-hop infused instrumental EP
Art itself is inherently subject to the nature of change. Though artists often strive to create permanent, idealized work meant to convey particular ideas of expression, the fabric of time inevitably adds a contextual filter that perpetually alters the retention and perception of art. The old adage that art imitates life and vice versa persists, then, for good reason, as life is similarly in a constant state of evolution.
Felix Rodriguez gets this. He applies an adventurous spirit and an adaptive mind to compose instrumental music that has no agenda except to simply be. While his work stems from ideas, he allows it the space to grow beyond into new forms, sprawling across his many influences with little restriction.
Under the fitting name Open/Honest, Rodriguez has put out an impressive handful of projects since debuting as a solo artist little more than a year ago. His latest, despite being the shortest in his catalogue to date, is his most focused, thoughtful, and evolved.
There are ingredients here that, at the hands of a different composer, would become another passive Soundcloud mix of “lo-fi hip-hop beats to study to.” Open/Honest adheres to a loop-based structure, weaving in bits of hip-hop, electronic, and jazz sounds. The difference is that he does so with more intentionality, and that results in a more active instrumental mix which might prove distracting to a kid doing homework. Day One EP is just too interesting.
Perhaps the most significant and recognizable characteristic of Open/Honest’s work is the way it blurs the lines between live performance, sampling, and synthesized sound. Pianos, guitars, drums, and bass breathe an organic grounding to the pieces, but they’re also broken down and restructured through sample chopping, glitching, and mixing effects. It’s this compositional filter that gives Open/Honest’s music a cubist or mosaic-like quality. In this light, the cover art’s manipulated photography makes perfect sense.
Similarly, there’s a facade of repetition here. Certainly, loop samples and beats are repeated over and over, but they align differently with each other with each iteration. Rarely is any part of a track on Day One EP identical to any other part. Opener “Verdant” is a pretty audible example with its sparse but prevalent 8-bar guitar line folded in on itself through doubling and backmasking. “Job Fair” works out a similar effect with piano.
Though it’s not readily apparent without some context, Rodriguez has said that a personal, autobiographical arc forms the basis for Day One EP. By expressing it through core feelings instead of concrete details, though, it becomes universal. The title track, for instance, is representative of a day when one’s life abruptly changes and sends them back to square one in some aspect of their life. That’s something to which most people can relate. The rest of the EP falls into place around that track, offering a glimpse of the before and after. The closer, “Auditions”, then wraps the album with more serenity than the other cuts, rolling back the splintery production in favor of a warm feeling of wholeness and stability.
Though there is clearly a unique creative process behind Open/Honest’s work, it doesn’t necessarily show itself. Some investigative listening and independent research certainly unearths some of Rodriguez’s methodology, but to a first-time listener, some of the inner complexities are bound to go unnoticed. Some might well suggest that the end result isn’t as inspired as its genesis, and that’s okay.
If anything about the opening lines to this review ring true, then this is not a detriment so much as it is the natural course of art. Though there is indeed a concept to Day One EP, it is simply the starting point. From there, it grows beyond, guided by outside forces like audience, culture, and time. Considering that “Auditions” is actually a track that predates all of Open/Honest’s recorded work and has gone through iteration after iteration before reaching its place on the new release, it seems clear that Rodriguez is on the sme wavelength by being especially open to change. Ironic as it may seem, there is a unique freedom to giving up control, and Day One EP is as liberated as they come.
aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.