We currently live in a culture of rabid misinformation. Talking heads try to convince us that our feelings are equivalent to facts. Truth is virtually meaningless. It will take decades to confront and undo these issues, and in all likelihood they will never actually be eradicated. And yet we still must fight, through whatever action we can. Artists have been making politically charged music to take on every new crisis, whether political or humanitarian (though often both). In that vein, HDLSS (formerly Headless Horseman) have written a record that seems to subvert expectations on every front: they confront issues both internal and external to make a statement about society, using oft-villainized pop tropes to prove their points.
HDLSS is the New York-based duo of Far and Wolfy, the former taking on the role of vocalist, over production largely fine-tuned by the latter. Their ideas come out of collaboration, and their latest LP is a breath-taking concept record called Selections From DUMB. It manages to cover a scope of social awareness that I personally can’t say I’ve ever heard before. Each track has a distinct theme, with both macro- and micro-lenses on the topics at hand. It all starts broadly with “Colonizer,” a song “about appropriation, both cultural and mental,” according to Far, aka Fareed Sajan. Later in the record, they also draw attention to the dishonesty of revisionist historical accounts in a track left open to interpretation as whitewashing or self-denial (though probably both). “The main idea is that the one who holds the power holds the eraser and ink too,” he explained, leaving space for white folks to self-reflect.
Other, narrower issues they tackle include narcissism, identity, and disillusionment. Some songs will take on a complete narrative, such as with “Hellboy/Puppet,” whose narrator both describes and embodies the frantic throes of addiction. The most personal song on the record is “What Comes Next?” in which Sajan reconciles his Muslim background with the profound Islamophobia of America. While any hatred is inexcusable, inaction can be equally as destructive, outlined on “Bystander” and its reprise; “apathetic narcissists,” Heem croaks on the record’s only guest verse, referring to the US government’s apathy toward Syria as we idly “watch the atrocities.” Where the initial track seems to play on a reversal of the Good Samaritan parable, the reworked version pushes us into darker territory.
The songs on Selections From DUMB are built on the back of trendy tones and interjections, like calypso marimbas or trap, though the composition is never random. In driving home their criticism of cultural appropriation, they employed tropical percussion, a historically Caribbean sound that has crept into the mainstream through white artists like Diplo and Justin Bieber. Also, HDLSS use samples of other songs in an almost confrontational manner; the album’s thesis, “Cult of Dumb,” is constructed entirely out of these clips “to enhance the idea that ‘we don’t really own anything.’” Even a Madonna sample is not off limits when it gets twisted to the point of spiraling depression on “I Read Your Note.” All this to say that this album bops from start to finish. There is a sense of unease felt in Sajan’s breathy whispers, but without context, this record floats comfortably around art pop.
This project is based on humanity’s inherent decline, and though it is thorough, it could not possibly hit every issue that exists. This is why it is called Selections From DUMB, implying that a longer and denser DUMB record was the original concept before it was cut down to a reasonable length. You can’t subvert pop with a fifty-track opus because that would betray the genre itself. Through familiar song structures and recognizable chords and progressions, HDLSS are able to comment on the very reason that we have become so familiar with these songs. Laziness leads us to groupthink and in turn, we give up our individuality. Given all the effort it took to put this album together, it’s safe to assume that Far and Wolfy have not succumbed to the Dumb. And that should give the rest of us hope for freedom.
by: Zoë Elaine