Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
Brick Body Kids Still Daydream offers everything you’d expect from an Open Mike Eagle album and rivals Dark Comedy for the best in his catalogue
'I will never fit in your descriptions', Mike Eagle declares on his latest record, and he’s not wrong. Over the last decade, the former affiliate of LA’s Project Blowed has cultivated a diverse body of work that defies the simplistic career bios that tend to open reviews such as this. Nevertheless, needs must: as well as recording several rap albums under the moniker Open Mike Eagle, the Chicago-born Eagle is one half of Cavanaugh (a concept-driven collaborative project with fellow underground rap hero Serengeti); he's a podcast host who’s interviewed rappers, authors and comedians; and he's soon to be a television presenter when his late-night show debuts on Comedy Central later this year. Eagle is also known for coining the term “art rap” as a way to differentiate his likes of Busdriver's, Yoni Wolf's and milo’s work from the mainstream. He’s also surely rap’s biggest booster of They Might Be Giants.
That being said, Eagle’s not just bragging about his CV when he sings those words. Rather, he’s alluding to the overriding concept of Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, in which he imagines himself as a tower block torn down in the name of gentrification. He threads this analogy throughout the album, building a strong comparison between the treatment of black bodies and low income housing in modern America – both are ritually obliterated with little reason or recompense – while reflecting the emotional and physical toll recent events in the country have afflicted on his person.
The album was specifically inspired by the demolition of Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes, where more than 25,000 (96% of whom were African American, including Eagle’s aunt) once resided, though it concerns itself with lost homes of many shapes. On (How Could Anybody) Feel at Home, Eagle raps over an apprehensive beat about rolling up to his regular haunt, usually a dependable safe haven from whatever fresh hell’s going on in the world, only to find it closed without notice. 'Now we’re pulling the door / Like we did it before / And now we’re trying to deal with heat we shouldn’t absorb', he raps, translating into song the feeling of having the rug pulled from under you.
95 Radios [featuring Has-lo] meanwhile, is a wistful ode to the slower, simpler days of his youth, in which Eagle reminisces about cruising his neighbourhood looking for a radio signal. Over a cosy polaroid photo beat, he convincingly outlines a sense of community spirit that’s absent from most modern methods of music discovery.
As always, Eagle’s hooks are strong and on most of the tracks he nests choruses within other choruses, alternating between sing-song passages, catchy mantras and quick-fire chants until it's earworms all the way down. All feature on Happy Wasteland Day, a track that’s also a prime example of his characteristically downbeat humour. 'Can’t we get one day without violence / Can’t we get one day without fear?' he asks, pleading the case for a national day of rest amidst the ongoing chaos and cruelty that’s defined the lives of many, though especially of colour, as of late.
Between the gleefully geeky punchline rap on TLDR (Smithing), and the odd outlier that maybe shouldn’t have made the cut (see: Wedding Ghosts), Brick Body Kids Still Daydream offers everything you’d expect from an Open Mike Eagle album and rivals Dark Comedy for the best in his catalogue. But it’s also his most thematically coherent work yet. With the mismanagement of low income housing as his inspiration, Eagle has found a profound and urgent axis around which to consolidate his always incisive observations of everyday injustices.
Listen to: Happy Wasteland Day, Brick Body Complex