Piece Comment

Review of Scab Artist

This is a fascinating and challenging listen. I absolutely loved the first few minutes of the piece for its experimentalism and its honesty, but I soon came to worry that I wasn't "getting" it. Still, if you're looking for a meandering but intensely personal document of a young man's life in a harsh city, you'll like this.

The piece opens with choppily-edited voices repeating different definitions of the same words, honest, depressive-sounding rap, and a rambling, off-the-cuff description of the narrator's life in a dirty, crowded city. The piece oozes dark cynicism: the first narration ends by saying, "I'm alive, I guess."

The stories that follow are oddly fascinating, and some of the writing is poetic and image-rich: moldy chili that grows back, pizza that serves as "sudden and satifsying grounding in reality". But much of this seems thrown together at random, as if the narrator wanted to include what he considers key elements -- drugs, crazy people, fetishist neighbors -- in an attempt to gain non-conformist credibility. (What a concept!) "I am the underground," the narrator tells us, cynically saying it's only because he doesn't have enough money to buy into consumerism. It's unclear how sincere he is.

The central metaphor -- that a residue of life builds up, crustily, around each of us from our interactions with everyone else, like a scab where blood meets the air -- is promising but seems under-developed. At times it seems like the piece is merely an attempt to lend meaning to a set of otherwise less meaningful experiences. But, the cynical narrator would argue, isn't that all that life is?

It sounds great, though. The echoed, repeating phrases and the use of music are both really well done. McCandless is certainly right about one thing: the story does merit repeat listenings, even if that's only because it's so non-linear and potentially confusing the first time through. I had to listen again, because I wanted to "get" it.