Let me preface this review, of NYC group Lip Critic’s debut album ‘Hex Dealer,’ with an admission: these guys are my favourite musicians of the moment – to me, they are the musicians of the moment, for reasons you’ll be exposed to throughout my hopefully slightly coherent ramblings to follow. As I just said, though, this is a review, so expect judgements from all angles, some praising, some critical.

That exposition out of the way…welcome to this delightfully hallucinogenic experience! Is the message that opening track, ‘It’s The Magic,’ embodies throughout its 4-and-a-half-minute runtime. The floor-shaking bass and drum hits – courtesy of the band’s two drummers Daniel Eberle and Ilan Natter – construct an unnerving musical landscape amidst which singer/sampler Bret Kaser begins to deliver some incredibly alluring cryptic lyricism. ‘I thought that I’d feel free in my brand-new jeans’ – an opening line that I feel strangely sets the tone of disillusionment that permeates the rest of Hex Dealer – croons Kaser, whose singing voice vastly contrasts with his quick-fire delivery and, later, incensed screaming that appears in the latter half of the song.

As evidenced in the way that the instrumentation in ‘It’s The Magic’ goes from intense yet subdued to utterly unhinged – percussion pounding at pace and pitched-up yells echoing – Lip Critic have a knack for progression in their music. Exhibit B: the second song on the album, ‘Love Will Redeem You’. Retaining the momentum of the previous track via rapid cymbal hits and Kaser’s bellowing, the beginning is relatively sparse with just these two elements present…for about 13 seconds, after which Eberle and Natter go apeshit and samplers Connor Kleitz and Kaser ramp up the tension with crunchy synth stabs and reverb that makes the listener feel as though they’re lost in an empty space, with only this track’s discomforting cacophony to soundtrack their attempts to escape.

My favourite aspect of ‘Love Will Redeem You,’ out of their myriad means of representing madness in musical form, is actually when, in between verses, Eberle and Natter switch up the drum pattern; dishing out a funky rhythm that heightens the listener’s sense of disorientation. There are so many moments across this record that demonstrate the group’s willingness to push the boundaries even more than they already have since the release of their first single, the raucous and hilarious ‘Entry Level Stud,’ in 2019.

While there are just as many offerings of the band’s classic chaotic soundscapes, with arpeggiated synth rhythms abounding and warp-speed drums like you wouldn’t believe, cuts like ‘Sermon’ and ‘Spirit Bomber’ experiment with what is already experimental music in their minimalism: the former’s hair-raising synth drone ruminates beneath Kaser’s curious claims of having ‘made water in the desert’ and ‘put a roof back on a home’ and hypnotic, plodding percussion; one of my favourites from Hex Dealer, the latter’s simple yet inexplicably brilliant drum beat and bass line with its rattling synthesised arpeggio make for an addictive concoction of sounds that command the listener to move (in my case, wildly throw my limbs about as if an electrical current is pulsing through them).

The fact that tracks such as these have not simply been placed alongside but fit right in with the many frankly insane compositions featured on ‘Hex Dealer’ really highlights Lip Critic’s increased confidence in their sound and musical vision more generally.

Regarding those ‘insane compositions’…how I’ve gone this long without mentioning the album’s singles (excluding ‘It’s The Magic’) is beyond me. From the anxiety inducing repetition of lyrics, cryptic as ever, in ‘The Heart,’ Kaser’s mysterious cries of ‘all my life, wanted to live/now I gotta die just because of what I did’ in the furious chorus of ‘Milky Max’ to the eardrum-busting, dopamine injection of a beat drop in the final moments of ‘In The Wawa (Convinced I Am God)’ one need look no further than these songs to understand where I’m coming from when I suggest that these four guys are making some of the best strides in experimental music today. Needless to say, the claim is far from unfounded!

I know I’m on the edge of sounding overly unctuous here, so I suppose now is a good time to mention something about the album that I feel left something to be desired, and that was some of the songs being too short. For instance, while I liked every song on the album, some, like ‘My Wife and The Goblin,’ ‘I’m Alive’ and the aforementioned ‘Sermon,’ could’ve done with being a bit longer so as to allow for some more interesting progression and to better immerse the listener. Of course, this is only my opinion, but I anticipate the band’s future outputs introducing us to even more of their wacky ideas, just perhaps more fully fledged next time.

Back to positives, then – the features! I loved these. ‘Bork Pelly,’ a dynamite DnB track with one hell of a title has Kaser share vocal duties with Symphony Spell of transgressive duo GHÖSH and ID.Sus, a rapper who also appeared on the band’s 2020 compilation ‘Lip Critic II’ – both artists thrive upon Kleitz and Kaser’s frenetic samples and each presents a unique allure, the former gliding over the instrumental with dexterity and charm and the latter matching the grittiness of the beat with his electric delivery. The same goes for Izzy De Fonseca’s vocal contribution to ‘Death Lurking,’ snippets of which are sampled and placed before angular electronic sounds – I particularly enjoyed her line, ‘fuck that selfish man,’ which Kaser duly yells to all hell before the song draws to a close.

To conclude, here’s a list of actions for you to take away from this review and carry out in your own time. 1, close this window. 2, open any streaming service. 3, save ‘Hex Dealer’ to your library, add to your queue, whatever will ensure you hear this record at some point. 4, have a grand old time enriching your eardrums with the crazy, brilliantly crafted compositions of Lip Critic! Bon appétit!

 Lip Critic: Hex Dealer – Out 17th May 2024  (Partisan)