The Twin Cities’ Sims is one of the many talents behind the Doomtree collective which, in 2010, really branched into something more than just a hip-hop group. Producers Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak took that family tree and sprouted solo efforts Made Like Us and Legend Recognize Legend, which were more electronic and indie rock than rap. Dessa‘s solo album finally came out of that Minnesota snow, hot on the heels of Spiral Bound, a collection of her writing. 2011 is as fresh as newly fallen snow and Sims is etching his name into the yearbook with a stunning follow-up to Lights Out Paris.
“Future Shock” sets the kindling to flame over Lazerbeak production as Sims begins his narrative observing the world around him. “I was born in ’82, about the time when the Cold War flew, born when the world was small, before we connected the zoo. But look at the way we grew, dropped the borders but we kept them walls. The things we made to pull us close, push us all…” The rhythm is urgent, with a warped sample serving as the backup chorus behind Sims. The fact “we don’t speak on the bus” is at the base of the frustration, that disconnect despite our superficial interconnected world. It’s a common course that runs throughout Bad Time Zoo, which paints the world over as an animalistic kingdom run by self-serving citizens unperceptive of their own unawareness. (Random aside, it seriously reminds me of Marie Darriesque’s Truismes, a story where society reverts into animals due to materialism and disconect-if you removed the feminism and generalized the plot.)
The bus metaphor comes back with “One Dimensional Man,” a scathing commentary on new consumer movements “with the action based on guilt, holier-than-thou type thing.” The military snare roll beat over less-than-angelic altered voices is one of the brilliant Lazerbeak moments on the album. The voice and the music sync, fortifying each other brilliantly as Sims scolds potentially the best lyric you’ll hear this year:
“You switched it up, now you’re buying all organics screaming, ‘Save the planet!’ But you won’t even save your neighbor, dammit!”
Bad Time Zoo shows improvement over his last solo album, a confidence honed in with time. It shows with “When It Rolls In”, showing Sims being more poetic and less inflamed as his delivery shifts to singing and near spoken-word. It is a calming, anchored anthem to calm those lashed shores, a much-needed balance to what otherwise would be a one-sided reflection on society. “Good Times” continues, returning to rap, but with a searing quickness you’d expect from Mike Mictlan. The unexpected diamond in all this roughness may just be “Love My Girl”. Starting with a beat as light it must’ve came from AM radio in the Caribbean, Sims rides the keys into one of his catchiest choruses to date; “She gimme that feeling. Sunup to evening, showdown to high noon.”
Only a few tracks, I wouldn’t say slip, but step back with the solid songs up front. “In My Sleep” sounds like it could be off of a revised, live-band Godlovesugly beat, stripped to its core. “The Veldt” is caught in the spotlight with “There’s gonna be an accident” drawing the track back. But that may just be because it’s bookended by “Love My Girl” and “Weight”, which was a definite live favorite in Madison.
Pre-orders came with a box cutter to help, I quote, “cut the origami-style album art which folds into a dioramic mini zoo.” The way Bad Time Zoo spins, you may as well use it to carve a spot in your shelf, or wall, or closet to put Sims’ most memorable album to date. Either that or use your nails or claws, wings and teeth.