[WESTERN EXPERIMENTAL RAP] I give a lot of credit for ambition, and Portland MC Rafael Vigilantics is an ambitious dude. He tries to reinvent hip-hop outright on The Orgasm of a Ghost (yup, that's the title), putting a distinctly Western twist on an indie rock-informed breed of hip-hop (think Astronautalis or P.O.S.) that sacrifices speaker-busting beats and linear narrative for something more sonically subtle and lyrically poetic.
Vigilantics also gets lost in the weeds of this bold new territory, right from the opening track. The guy we meet on "Unforgiven"—who sounds like Modest Mouse's "Cowboy Dan" fucking Everlast's "What It's Like" in a Vegas strip club—isn't necessarily the real Rafael. Vigilantics first presents himself, through rambling verses and throaty hooks, as a bully with a heart of gold; a beer-soaked poet who writes his best lines in blood: "You still think the devil don't pray?"
That's one of the personalities we're introduced to on Orgasm. There are others, from the sneering hustler ("Brass Knuckles") to the sensitive rocker who drops Guns N' Roses/Johnny Thunders references ("Dreaming," "Cassette Head"). Each of these personalities are worth getting to know. But when they cross paths—as on the half-sung, half-rapped "Dreaming"—scuffles can ensue, and the listener isn't sure whether to root for the gentle poet or the shouting MC. Neither man really wins, and we find ourselves wishing Vigilantics had split his tunes into ballads and club tracks instead of attempting to combine the two.
But sometimes, it works. No one else in Portland is making hip-hop as vulnerable as "Forgotten," a gonzo/beatnik roadtrip song with Lanois-esque production (the disc was well-crafted by local producer Elliot B) and bright, impressionist rhyme schemes. This is where all Vigilantics' personalities bleed back into one, and it's where he's at his best. Maybe ambition isn't everything.
SEE IT: Rafael Vigilantics releases The Orgasm of a Ghost on Friday, Feb. 11, at Someday Lounge, with Busdriver, Dark Time Sunshine, Abadawn and the Kill Party and Cloudy October. 9 pm. $8. 21+.