Words About Music
There are many rappers who copy the sound partially pioneered by California-via-Michigan indie rapper Bones. His high-speed raps, alt rock inflections, and bloated bass beats can be heard in the music of artists like $uicideboy$, XXXTentacion, and Lil Peep, to name a few, but none of them do it quite like Bones. Since he was a teenager, Bones, whose real name is actually Elmo Kennedy O’Connor, has been prolifically dropping mixtapes and EPs, leading his own collective/label called Team SESH. He’s been sampled by A$AP Rocky, praised by many for his interpretation of Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony and Three 6 Mafia’s sinister southern rap, and created a movement out of thin air.
Although I’ve known of Bones for years, I really only started giving his music an earnest listen last year, when he put out the “Useless” EP, which was one of my favorite EPs of 2016. He followed it up that summer with a full-length project, “PaidProgramming2,” which had its moments but I ultimately felt like was a bit too long for its own good. Bones had found his sonic niche, now he just needed to find a way to prolong it for just the right amount of time. Bones’ songs scarcely surpass the 2-minute mark unless it’s a posse cut, with one verse and one hook being delivered before the end. This is a trend in this microgenre of hip-hop which can make the songwriting feel occasionally lazy and haphazard, and sometimes keeps me from enjoying full projects.
Now, Bones is back with “NoRedeemingQualities,” his latest full-length mixtape to drop through his own label as a free project. As he continues to hone his craft and perfect his art, he comes through with what I’m happy to call the best project I’ve heard from Bones to date. At 14 tracks totaling 33 minutes in length, “NoRedeemingQualities” strikes that balance I’ve been hoping he would strike, as he pays attention to his style as well as his substance.
Bones’ 19th project kicks off with “Oxygen,” which has a dark, murky beat that bangs in like a donkey-kick through a brick wall. It’s a heavy track with a wall-of-sound type feel to it, introducing the classic formula of one verse followed by one hook. Bones displays all sort of vocal stylings on this track, from his usual, slick style of rapping, his Maynard James Keenan-esque alt-metal vocals, and then his emo-ish screams. It’s a bangin’, impossible-to-ignore intro the mixtape that has me floored.
The next track, “TheDeadMansTrunk,” perfectly encompasses what else I love about Bones, which is that his best songs are all extremely catchy. He’s really great at stacking syllable with assonance and consonance to create hooks even when he’s not giving the actual hook. It’s yet another song that I feel like deserves a second half, but it’s still impressive on its own, and not at all a disappointment if you go into Bones’ music knowing how short his songs are.
But, if you’re looking for proof that a longer song suits him well, stick around for “SeanPaulWasNeverThereToGimmeTheLight,” which features an awesome verse from fellow Michigan native Danny Brown. Danny sounds awesome on this beat, even if his voice sometimes gets drowned in the slightly awkward, overbearing mix with the heavy bass. Still, the beat on this track rocks, and it’s one of the best songs Bones has ever done. While Danny Brown sounds far away, lost in the bass, Bones sounds like he’s right behind you, breathing on your neck, daring you to make the next move. All the while, he delivers the hilarious hook, “Sean Paul was never there to give me the light/Yeah, he was too busy getting his temperature right.”
After this, Bones feels the need to hit us with 68 seconds of bars with “Decomposing,” which features some darkly comedic imagery, like the idea of Bones asking someone to throw some silica gel packs into his casket to keep his body fresh until he comes back from the dead. Just as quickly as this track hits you, though, it ends, moving on to “WasteOfSpace,” which is a fairly straightforward track from Bones if you know what to expect at this point. These two songs aren’t exactly standout tracks for me, but neither of them are bad songs, and they both fit snugly in the middle section of this tape.
The next song presents sort of a change of pace, though. “WhatAGreatDayToStayIndoors” actually features, and I think this is genius, a sung guest hook from Jon Simmons, vocalist of emo/pop-punk group Balance and Composure. This sounds like a bizarre mix, but it works better than you’d expect, especially with the minimalist, microhouse beat. It reminds me of a weird combination of John Talabot, Burial, and Radiohead. This track is really cool from beginning-to-end, and I think it’d be interesting to hear more indie vocalists collaborate with indie rappers.
“I2I” is another great, albeit short song, which kicks off with a reference to Lenny Kravitz’s worst song. It’s a good finish to the mixtape’s second half, after which we get the first single that was released from this project, “TimTheToolmanTaylor.” I’m fairly certain this isn’t the first time Bones has referenced “Home Improvement,” a show which is pretty popular in Michigan because that’s where it takes place. This track is another highlight for me, for many of the same reasons that I tend to fuck with Bones and his music. He’s a clearly skilled rapper who’s been largely ignored, probably for being associated with the scene he helped birth, somewhat indirectly. Regardless, I think the music he makes only gets better as he continues to make it.
The next track, “Roaming,” is sort of a glorified interlude. It’s an awesome track which goes pretty hard if you’re not paying much attention to it, but lyrically it doesn’t offer much in the way of Bones’ usual sense of humor. It’s an awesome hook without a verse, and yet another track which would benefit from some more goddamn work being put into it. I understand Bones’ nihilist perspective and aesthetic; I just wish he would put just a bit more effort into the music that conveys this aesthetic.
Thankfully the humor returns on “AvrilWasRight,EverythingIsSoComplicated,” which directly references (in title and in lyric) Avril Lavigne’s mid-2000s hit “Complicated.” It’s another well-produced song, that, while it’s a bit too short, at least features a full verse and good chorus. “ExoticBambooFlooring” builds on a glitchy, strange beat that only gets more interesting as the song goes on. Bones uses this track, and many others, to gloat about his dedication to himself and his team, and how he has absolutely no desire to go mainstream or even join an established indie label.
And as much as I like to complain about how short these songs are, I’ve got to give Bones props for fitting a lot into such a short amount of time. “YouMadeYourBed,NowLieInIt” is another good example of this, with its vicious bars addressing fake friends, especially people who weren’t there for him when he needed it and now are asking for his help and kindness. “Now how does it feel to wake up inside a world being you, knowing I am right here?” Bones asks, mockingly. I can only imagine.
As the mixtape nears its end, Bones drops us with a cover of a traditional Celtic song, “Bridget O’Malley,” which is a strange addition to the record. But, hey, it shows that Bones has some versatility both in his musicianship and his taste. It’s a bold, ambitious inclusion that I think works pretty well in the context of the mixtape, even if I’m not familiar with its origins or meaning.
“NoRedeemingQualities” closes with its longest song, the 5-minute “Drown,” which features vocals and production from Australian musician Jonny Telafone, who I’d never heard of before hearing him on this project. I do like that he sort of forces Bones to stretch past his usual limit, and it’s an especially tense moment on the project. Jonny’s musical style reminds me of groups like Wreck and Reference as well as Xiu Xiu, a noisy, industrial vibe that fits Bones’ style well. I suppose I wish Bones actually dropped a verse on this track, but it’s still an intense, monolithic ending to this project that moves in a more experimental direction in which I’d like to see Bones head.
Like all of Bones’ releases, “NoRedeemingQualities” is a mixed bag of varying styles, thrown together in a somewhat coherent way and released for free with little to no appreciation from major critics and tastemakers. But, like time, Bones will never stop until he’s dead in the ground, and even then, I’m sure archaeologists will still continue to discover lost tracks and empty beats from time immemorial, all tied to the immortal Elmo Kennedy O’Connor.
In all seriousness, though, this is a really enjoyable project. My complaints with this tape are the same complaints I usually have with Bones’ music, but I also can’t confidently say that there’s a bad song here, just some incomplete songs. Still, though, “NoRedeemingQualities” shows us that Bones can really branch out of his comfort zone and help put together musical pieces which defy hip-hop altogether, which is a smart move considering that those who are copying his style now are doing a generally piss-poor job at it, and that maybe it’s time to move on to bigger and better things. This is, for better or worse, Bones’ best and most complete tape to date, and I’m excited to see what’s up next. I probably won’t be waiting long, though, because Bones is always on to the next thing by the time his projects release, and you never know what he’s gonna do next.
SCORE — 8.00 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — Oxygen, TheDeadMansTrunk, SeanPaulWasNeverThereToGimmeTheLight, Decomposing, WasteOfSpace, WhatAGreatDayToStayIndoors, I2I, TimTheToolmanTaylor, AvrilWasRight,EverythingIsSoComplicated, YouMadeYourBed,NowLieInIt, Drown