I never thought I’d find myself weak with emotion from an artist’s debut album, but that’s exactly what happened to me when I first happened upon Hippy Was Gipsy, a duo comprised of one of my new favorite producers, Jflow (also part of collective WAVISABIROOM), and vocalist Sep. Their debut, Tree, is one of the more unexpected albums for me this year. It didn’t quite crack me open upon the first listen, but after the second, I was completely lost in a bliss and anguish the likes of which only a few artists have managed to bring out in me.
There’s an indescribable heaviness to the entire album. Every song has a thick croon in its construction, an ache and crack in each voice. It’s as if the very digital mapping carries a heavy heart, a pain that lingers even if the source of it has long since faded. A track like “Cold,” that at first listen is akin to something from the likes of Space Cowboy, is deceptive in its emotional arc. While it eases in smoothly, at its climax it trickles, an uneven drip of broken samples of water, as if deceiving the listener into believing some form of balm will spread through the limbs, only to leave us unsure and still yearning for stability in our unstable souls.
We get into songs like “Fall,” featuring the wildness (the “fuckingmadness,” if you will) of jazz musician Oki Kim, and suddenly our world is more than just shrouded in sadness. There’s a shred of the insane, something not quite correct, crooked and wild about our surroundings. Sep’s voice, his piercing falsetto, does fit, albeit with much pushing—a square peg in a round hole—with the deceptively soft melody. However, once Kim makes his presence known, exploding into our sound space with the shrill whine and fury of his saxophone, Sep opens up. The slow creep, then shrill shout of Kim’s sax propels the emotion of “Fall” to heart-rending heights.
I’ll never forgive Jflow for sampling Nina Simone in this album. Not because I’m abashed he’d even go so far as to take from one of her more classic appearances—”Feelings” from her emotional, raw, and honest performance at the 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival. No. I’m supremely pissed he’d dare reach inside my being and rip from me an ache I haven’t felt for a while. I wasn’t expecting this brand-new duo to be able to create music in a way that brings out such a primal reaction in me. As if they know me. As if they’ve seen my pains and heard all my pleas for relief and forced me to confront them the old-fashioned way: hard and head-on. “Let’s Go” is offensive simply because it invades my space. It’s acoustic counterpart drives the entire album home and does the job off completely destroying me.
Enlisting the vocal depth and mysticism of my new favorite angel, SOMA, was just bad form. Indeed, from first to last note, Tree is nothing but a wax drip of almost primordial emotion: raw and untouched. Tracks like “Fog,” “Older,” and “Gray” (damn, the last fifty seconds of that song) are meant to drag forth things that one has tried hard to forget, to suppress for the sake of being able to move on with her life. It digs its roots into you, as it were, adding your body and soul to its lineage, sprouting the fruits of your suffering and letting them blossom and ripen until gravity has them and sends them crashing to the ground for others to taste.
Tree is a daring piece of music, especially for a debut. This duo doesn’t wait for a moment in the future to expose themselves. They do it out loud, brazenly ripping open their chests and revealing the redness of their pain and passions, and they force their way inside every listener.
I spent the majority of this album with a lump in my throat. The amount of emotional weight Hippy Was Gipsy put into every note of this album was so visceral, so very palpable it lay heavy on my skin for a long while after I’d given it a first, second, fifth listen. Never mind the breadth of Sep’s vocal range—reaching deep within the gut to produce some heavenly alto, then stretching for falsetto as if a man yearning to be touched by an angel. He dipped his fingers into places reserved for my diary and whispers into my pillow, and he pulled out in me something warm, tight, and harsh. Damn this group and love them all the same for this album.
Please purchase Tree on iTunes.
- With Me (with OLNL)
- Fall (with Kim Oki)
- Korea Flower
- Let’s Go
- 연리지 (Older) (with SOMA, Kim Oki)
- Let’s Go (Acoustic Ver.)