BUCK 65 – Secret House

buck 65

Here is an old review I wrote in 2007 for All Music that was never published, and after randomly listening to this record today for the first time in years, I decided it’s totally worth representing here. A great record by an under-rated Canadian hip hop icon. Check it!

Buck 65 – Secret House Against The World (2005)

Stinkin’ Rich Terfry aka The Centaur aka Buck 65 returns with a new full-length that expands on the chilled-out folktronic hip-hop of 2003’s Talkin’ Honky Blues. Longtime fans will find it an even further departure from the turntable-oriented MCing that endeared Buck to his listeners in the first place, however, sonically speaking the production on Secret House Against The World is arguably his finest output to date. Melodies abound – strings, piano, vibes, banjo, guitar, and the lush backing vocals of Parisian vocalist Claire Berest are all used adeptly throughout. Recorded in studio with help from Tortoise, Gonzales, fellow Nova Scotian Charles Austin, and a handful of others, Secret House sounds natural and organic, like real human beings making music together.

Lyrically, Buck is beginning to veer away from the non-sequitur stylings of Aesop Rock and the experimentalism of his contemporaries releasing records on Anticon and Definitive Jux. Instead, Buck continues to refuse to be pigeonholed or tied down to any one genre. Sounding more like a synthesis of Johnny Cash, Charles Bukowski and Tom Waits, Buck 65 does what he’s always done best – he tells stories. And to be sure, the most compelling songs on Secret House are narratively driven. “The Floor” tells the tale of a young boy with a drunk father and sick mother over the backdrop of quiet piano and vibraphone and ends with a moody orchestral swell as a fitting climax. In “Drunk Without Driving” Buck raps from the perspective of a down-and-out traveling salesman having an affair with a married woman: “And this is terrible, gorgeous and sinister / The pillow still smells like the secrets of my visitor / No one needs to know about this kind of thing / Blood on my back from the attack of her diamond ring”. You can actually see the crummy hotel room – haze of cigarette smoke, bottle of Jack on the bedside table, TV flashing in the background – almost like something out of a Raymond Carver story.

There’s a sadness that runs through this album, the mood and tone of slower tracks like “Surrender to Strangeness” and “Blood of a Young Wolf” play out like the alt-country of Califone or Wilco, and sound pretty good doing it. Faster tracks like “Blanc-Bec” and “Kennedy Killed The Hat” will be the one’s that stick out at live shows and after first listens, but it will be the introspective, story-driven (dare I say Leonard Cohenesque) tracks that the avid listener will want to return to again and again.

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