The Last Artful, Dodgr & Neill Von Tally, Bone Music (Eyrst)

[LABOR PAINS] With the Last Artful, Dodgr, nothing should be taken at face value. Her name alone contains multitudes—a reference to Oliver Twist, a nod to her hometown of Los Angeles, a pun on its baseball team and an allusion to a life spent evading drama and danger, all in just four words tied together by an errant comma. No surprise, then, that the title of the buzzing Portland rapper's second album also packs a lot of meaning into a scant few syllables. Most directly, Bone Music refers to the Soviet-era practice of bootlegging banned music on X-ray film. It can also be taken as an expression of emotional vulnerability, a metaphor for peeling back the skin to reveal the fractures underneath. And if you want to be nasty about it, well, it's certainly not a record you would turn off in the bedroom.

Deceptive simplicity is Dodgr's calling card in the studio as well. To that end, she's found the ideal accomplice in producer Neill Von Tally. His beats don't bang so much as radiate, painting the atmosphere with just a few trace elements: tremors of sub-bass, manipulated found sounds, synths that flicker and strobe like a dying flashlight in a dark tunnel. Dodgr's attention-grabbing voice—a nasal sing-song permanently pitched between spitting hot fire and catching the Holy Spirit—is elastic enough to stretch over almost any type of production. But on Bone Music, Von Tally doesn't force her to conform to any obvious structure. He simply gives her space. And with an instrument like hers, that's all she really needs.

Indeed, she makes good use of it. Conceptually, Bone Music weaves a narrative about a relationship collapsing under the weight of working life, and her voice tells the tale as much as the words. On "LLC," Dodgr slips into the almost bluesy rasp of a prisoner on a chain gang, outlining the demands of her last will and testament should she not survive until quitting time: "If I die, play my beats." She gets more playful around the album's midsection, as she seeks relief from the daily grind in, well, another kind of grind. But lust gradually fades into longing until, on the woozy "Bleu Replica," the themes of love, labor and loss come full circle, with Dodgr blowing her meager overtime pay on cheap beer to numb the sting of spotting her ex in the club canoodling with her best friend. At that point, the album title takes on another layer of meaning—a caution against working yourself to the bone and bruising your heart in the process.

Don't worry about Dodgr, though. As anyone who's traced her rise over the past year knows, she's certainly worked her ass off, and from the sound of it, there's been plenty of sacrifice. But listening to Bone Music, there's no denying that it's starting to pay off. 

SEE IT: The Last Artful, Dodgr plays Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave., on Friday, March 3. 8 pm. $7 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.