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E Zac Cazes , January 13th, 2020 09:00

E, the debut album by Drain Gang member Ecco2k does little to dispel the artist's sense of mystery, finds Zac Cazes

When I went to see Drain Gang member Ecco2k (Zak Arogundade) at Electrowerkz earlier in the year, I’d never seen someone use so much smoke at a gig. For the duration of the show, the stage was enveloped in a thick fog from which bits of Arogundade’s long limbs would occasionally poke out as he performed – a suitable setting for an artist who had yet to release a solo LP and who has always shied away from the limelight. With the recent release of his debut album E, some of that fog has lifted, only to reveal that what was inside the fog is just as mysterious and intangible as the fog itself.

E is a relatively short album, containing mostly unreleased music. In his lyrics, Arogundade acts as an urban fae, singing in an impossibly high autotuned falsetto about casting love spells and mixing up dangerous substances and potions in the darkest corners of European capitals. In ‘Calcium,’ Arogundade links ketamine to witchcraft: “I’ve been rolling oxen bones, double K crystals hit my nose”, he sings in a soft voice. On ‘Peroxide,’ he is “at the bus stop, crushing rocks”, while a choir of high-pitched backing vocals chant “crush, crush, crush crush.” He warns listeners: “don’t go around him you might get robbed, chop off your body parts, chop his arm off and take his watch.”

There’s a brattiness on ‘Peroxide’ that comes from Arogundade’s masterfully delivered ad-libs. He asks “what the fuck are you looking at” with the most believable unimpressed tone, almost making you want to look away from whatever device his music is playing from. His sensitive interior world is juxtaposed with how he imagines himself to be perceived in a jarring clash. His brattiness acts as his weapon against those who judge his appearance and try to whitewash him. In Peroxide he confirms: “no peroxide I stay dark”.

The idea of difference and not fitting is one that Arogundade has addressed before. In the song ‘Black Boy’ from Drain Gang’s compilation D&G, Arogundade spoke about his experience of blackness in conjunction with his particular look. In particular, he discussed the discomfort he felt when others looked at him in the wrong way: “what are you afraid of, look the other way, (ugh) you're all the same”. On ‘Blue Eyes,’ the penultimate track on E, Arogundade continues to address the white Swedish gaze, this time noting, “all my friends got blue eyes” while distorted screams provide backing vocals.

The way that clever production details such as those distorted screams are effected and mixed brings the record to a whole other level. Gud and Whitearmor had a busy 2019, having executive produced an album apiece; but from a production perspective, this is perhaps their most accomplished effort. The balance between psychedelic electronica and dreampop is just right here, with beautifully modulated leads cutting through muddy subs, clicky percussion and clouds of reverb throughout the album. Beats from Mechatok and Shanti help bring a different energy to album, ensuring that the soundscapes it takes you through stay varied and fresh.

While the overall themes of the LP seem clear, Ecco2k is still a mysterious figure. His particular set of imagery, consistent throughout the LP, invites you to enter his world, a world of drug addled surrealism and original sin, and where a picture can be painted with only two or three words. Ultimately, listeners are still left wondering: who is Ecco2k and what planet did he come from?