Memory Tapes: Yikes the Zero gets nostalgic on The Animal Box - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Yikes the Zero | Photo courtesy of the artist

Like many young kids growing up in the 80’s, Jarrett Bair began his journey in music by sitting down with a cassette recorder, creating homemade pause tapes.

In a recent article on the history of pause tape making, hip-hop historian Gino Sorcinelli describes the basic process of this unique practice as such:

“For young hip-hop fans without the means to purchase expensive samplers of the day, pause-tapes were an early DIY way of producing. Using dual cassette decks, aspiring producers would play and record a sample from another tape or record, pausing the tape when the sample had finished its rotation. They would then rewind to the beginning of the sample and unpause the tape, starting the process again and extending the sample loop for several minutes.”

“When I was in like first or second grade, I would take a cassette player and sing and try to rap,” recalls Bair, more commonly known as Philly rapper Yikes the Zero. “I used to write and I was kinda shy about it, my brothers would make fun of me.”

Nostalgia and childhood memory are themes that consistently pop up in Bair’s work. Throughout his discography, albums like A Kid And His Monsters, Yikey The Giant Slayer — as well as his collaborative work with producer Adam Jeez — are littered with hazy and abstract recollections of years gone by. These albums are densely packed with images salvaged from old television shows and cartoons, afternoons on the playground and rap cyphers around the neighborhood.

Each obscured element, each fuzzy detail is collected and spun together into a collage-like world of oddball beats and and melodic half-sung rhymes. ”A lot of it has to do with imperfections and embracing the imperfection,” says Bair. “A lot of it is just entertainment and the shit I grew up watching. Little Rascals, westerns, kung-fu flicks, Three Stooges, slapstick. It was kinda an ode to being a snot-nosed kid. It’s an ode to my brothers who passed away at a ridiculously young age. It’s almost like I’m running around with them. The new album is more like a dedication to them.”

On his latest album, The Animal Box (released on local Lo-Fi/Experimental label Extra Lovely Records), Bair tackles the challenges of growing up, walking into adulthood while carrying the baggage of the past. The question of how one makes the transition from sensitive, observant child to pained and neurotic adult is addressed directly with creativity and subtlety.

Bair’s ear for production and composition in “Keystone Shadows” emerges from a fog of delay and improv jazz drumming before entering into a subtle but tense chorus “Are you confident? Are you dumb enough? ….is it him again? Am I through with it? Am I through?”

Like his previous work, much of the album’s beats are laden with dusty strings and music box samples seemingly mined from old lounge / exotica records of the past. The tormented sentimentality of the words are matched by an acute sonic nostalgia woven into the beats. “A lot of it has to do with imperfections and basically embracing the imperfections,” says Bair. “I kinda got tired of hearing the typical shit with beats, so it’s like, what can you do differently?”

Throughout its fifteen tracks, The Animal Box reveals deep contradictions in the music’s tone and content. While tunes like “Trust” and “Oh Disaster” appear sing-songy and optimistic on their surface, there is a sense of yearning and dread that seems to creep in from in between the cracks of the song’s unhinged melodies and stream of consciousness raps. Many of the songs resemble lullabies and nursery rhymes salvaged from memories of the past but tainted and distorted by the passage of time and old trauma.

“I’ve always been eccentric….I mean, I have my influences but they come from such scattered grounds,” reflects Bair. “It’s almost like I’ve been throwing myself into my own memories.”

Yikes the Zero celebrates the release of The Animal Box on Saturday, November 5th at Kung Fu Necktie. Tickets and more information on the show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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