By Kwase Lane, Contributor
[Auto Reverse; 2018]
Key Tracks: “Microfiche”, “Single Ghosts”, “Southside Eagle”
Self-proclaimed art-rapper Open Mike Eagle is back on the scene with his newest EP, What Happens When I Try to Relax, which offers his audience six new tracks, each doused with his signature mix of campiness and musical savvy. Mike is no stranger to the comedy world, and this project has some genuinely funny lyrics in songs that deal with serious issues. For a lesser artist, this would feel artificial, but he is somehow able to create music that is supremely-interesting both sonically and in the subject matter. Open Mike Eagle is a master of emotion, making his audience feel glee, distress and a myriad of other emotions on a wild 19-minute ride.
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The construction of “Microfiche” is an anomaly. The song is deliciously smooth and sleepy but still demands active listening and a bit of head bobbing. The gently forward strolling base and Mike’s soothing voice are imbued with a strange energy that is then passed onto the listener. The song perfectly captures the uncanny anxiousness that could only come over someone when they are trying to go to sleep. Your mind is filled by thoughts of the previous day’s events or anticipation for those of the next day, and you end up doing everything but dozing off. In the end, it’s probably just easier to listen to Mike’s advice: “It can all go away, just shut yo’ eyes / It can all go away.”
The next track, “Single Ghosts”, doesn’t abandon this quiet energy, but instead molds it to fit a new shape. Mike describes chatting up someone that he’s interested in before realizing they’re less interesting than a dead body. In a hip-hop crypt keeper fashion, he compares her unfeeling demeanor to a slew of undead creatures: “And I don’t know if I’m ready, to meet a person that died / That talks less than a zombie, but looks perfectly fine / It looks like our flesh is the same, but I’m not gon’ question the game.” This entire narrative is delivered over eerie, yet comfortably-familiar production that keeps the listener interested, but not so freaked out that they skip the track. “Single Ghosts” takes a huge risk on its Twilight Zone-tinged production and lyrics, but Mike manages to stick the landing and transform the gimmicky premise into a worthwhile piece of music.
“Southside Eagle” is a relatable look into Mike’s life peppered with “Weird flex, but OK” moments. Initially, Eagle plays up his antisocial tendencies and irresponsibility as something that he’s proud of: “I saw Kendrick at Leimert didn’t say shit / I saw Vince at the club and didn’t say shit.” In the second verse, Mike becomes more grounded in his self-examination, realizing his faults. Mike doesn’t do an amazing job of varying his tone and delivery for this juxtaposition, but the lyrics have a decent amount of engaging criticism without being tainted by any sort of disgust or contempt. In the end, this track is a sterile look at Mike’s own faults that leaves the audience with a vague pity for his authentically-human problems.
What Happens When I Try to Relax is an admirable collection that doesn’t slack off just because it’s an EP. It’s a short, palatable listen that captures Mike’s better qualities and serves as an excellent introduction to his discography. The album covers a wide array of themes and musical tones, but all of the pieces are linked together by the quiet energy in Open Mike Eagle’s voice. This project is a short car ride, but somehow its driver finds interesting side roads and detours that you’ve never seen before, making what should have been a mundane trip thoroughly exciting.