Slauson Malone: Vergangenheitsbewältigung

Jasper Marsalis turned a lot of heads in the experimental hip-hop scene with his debut album A Quiet Farwell: 2016-2018, under the name Slauson Malone. Although it has 20 tracks, it only spans a length of 30 minutes, and feels like one long song that is completely interconnected, transitioning from each track name seamlessly. The album covered themes of sorrow, the past as object, blackness, and many others, all of which were discussed flawlessly. Marsalis later released a book called Crater Speak, which is a collection of written works, photographs, and art that all inspired his thought-process while making A Quiet Farwell. Now, a year and a half after his debut project, Marsalis has returned with his debut EP, entitled Vergangenheitsbewältigung (Crater Speak). Containing both original tracks and acoustic reworks of certain songs from his previous album, this EP is a fitting companion piece alongside it’s LP and book counterparts. Marsalis continues his eccentric creative process while also providing a more accessible sound for all to enjoy.

When listening and viewing this project, it is clear that Marsalis really wanted to drive home the themes he was wanting to discuss with all of these pieces. Therefore, he included subtitles on each of the song, sort of like footnotes or works cited, referencing pages of his book or even songs from A Quiet Farwell, for one to look back at and see what inspired his thought process. Even the EP has a subtitle, which references the book itself. When one takes a deeper dive, it is clear how well thought out these projects are and how consistent Marsalis is as an artist and an intellectual.

The title, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, is German for “Coping with the past.” Seems simple enough, but one who is familiar enough with A Quiet Farwell or the German language will know that this is referring to the past as an object—as a physical entity. It might be the past that Marsalis is coping, but I believe he was trying to say that the past is the thing that he is coping alongside. It is a tool that he uses to cope with his present problems. Just look at the opening lyric of the track “Smile #5” for an answer as to why: “Memories is medicine.” Marsalis is playing with the idea of past as a literal, tangible object being used to get through the present. He does this in A Quiet Farwell frequently, with the often repeated lyric, “Smile at the past when I see it.” While Marsalis admits that one cannot physically interact with the past like he might suggest, the past is still this unavoidable idea that is so prevalent within human discourse and existence. We cannot make our way through this world without referencing what has come before us. Marsalis does a beautiful job of exploring these notions throughout all three of these projects, and drives it home wonderfully in this EP.

Additionally, there is some fun word-play in some of the titles of this EP, which can sometimes be similar to the titles in the previous album. For example, A Quiet Farwell has many songs title “Smile” with their respective numbers, as well as two songs entitled “The Message.” This theme carries over into the EP, but some songs are titled “Simile” or “Massage” instead. This subtle alteration to those two words are more than just a possible typo. They are a juxtaposition contrasting the abstract from the physical: Smiles vs. Similes, Messages vs. Massages.

And finally, the subtitle of the EP and title of the book, Crater Speak, refers to an idea that Marsalis and many other great thinkers are fascinated in. The absence of existence as an existing thing. A crater is a sign—a reminder—of the absence of something that once was.

As for the music, this album feels a lot more stretched out and relaxed in comparison to Marsalis’ 2019 project. In A Quiet Farwell, the effects on the production are absurd, all over the place, coming and going. The vocals have tons of effects as well, whether it be distortion, auto-tune, playful mixing, the entire album is 100 percent itself in a beautiful, experimental way. Vergangenheitsbewältigung, on the other hand, is much more raw, vulnerable, exposed, and pure. The beautiful acoustic guitar throughout the album is a perfect example. Marsalis even brings out his normal singing voice that you don’t get much of in previous projects. But comparing the handful of tracks that are reimagined versions of songs from A Quiet Farwell, the differences in instrumentation and vocals are very palpable. On the song “My feet’s hurt,” the melody is a very distorted, fuzzy, and fast-paced piano sound, whereas the companion version “My feet’s tired” is a reworking of the melody on a grand piano that gives a whole new meaning to the song. . There is also the closing track, “The Wake Pt. 3 & 2,” which showcases an incredible classical guitar style that is an interesting take on the song “Off Me!” from the 2019 project. Despite there being a lot of reimagined versions of songs on this album, there is still plenty of original content. The opening track “Smile #7” features a gorgeous and intimate piano melody accompanied by the frustrated, exhausted vocals of Jai, the feature on the track. There is also the gloomy and melancholic keyboard interlude “I’m tired” about halfway through the track list. These songs detail the theme of exhaustion that Marsalis experiences, whether it be metaphorically running from the past or literally being a fugitive, a reference to his enslaved ancestors.

A Quiet Farwell felt compressed—a distorted object that flashes by your eyes before you can fully understand what has just happened. It is a mass amount of stimuli that is stored in a small package. At the same time, the album is personified into an idle person in a fetal position, shielding themselves from the pain and the sorrow that the world has been soaking them in. Vergangenheitsbewältigung, on the other hand, feels like an unfolded version of that character. It is the stretched-out counterpart of A Quiet Farwell—the reworks of the songs are longer, some of the sound effects that are repeated across albums are extended. It is the unfolded version of the aforementioned person. The cry for help—the reaching out to be held—has finally been accepted. A hand on the shoulder offers consolation, the person gets up, looks forward, and, no longer fetal, begins anew.

Recommended If You Like: Yves Tumor, Pink Siifu, Standing on the Corner
Recommended Tracks: 2 (Smile #6), 9 (The Wake Pt. 3 & 2), 5 (My feet’s tired), 3 (Smile #5)
Do Not Play: None
Written by Griffin Lowry on 09/25/2020