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Stream: Aaron Alexander - "The Kushlov Effect, Vol. 1"

Aaron Alexander at The Granada in 2018, opening for JID. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.
In an age where every wild night out is referred to as a "movie" and any music video longer than six minutes is a "short film," Aaron Alexander is creating his own worlds and narratives within them on a level many of his peers can only dream of. The Kushlov Effect, Vol. 1 -- surprise released just over a week ago -- is truly cinematic, perhaps due in part to Alexander's longstanding interest in film and television and his recent studying of experimental Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov's eponymous effect.


The Kuleshov effect is a film editing technique that shows how context and the viewer's own feelings control how they view different images. The album's partially anagramed title references the presence of weed, one of its multiple recurring motifs. On the album opener, "Clouds," Alexander raps about smoking in celebration, but on "Playboy's Prayer" he's smoking to ease his stress and on "Joy" a shared smoke is a final communion between him and a love interest. While it'd be easy to allege that smoking is merely a habit of Alexander's, its many appearances in different contexts shines light on the array of emotions that one object or action can evoke in life dependent on the circumstances. It's less of a stoner album and more of a stoner's album. 


Another important fixture on the album is the car. On "Depends," a late night highway drive provides Alexander the time and space to process his emotions, whereas the luxury car he drives on "Madness" is viewed as a status symbol -- something he's fought the odds to attain. Cars and drugs play an important role in the posturing of all sorts of musicians, but on Kushlov, Alexander has successfully utilized them as three-dimensional tools for his story.


A mistake that some artists make when attempting a concept album is telling a long-winded story straight from beginning to end. Alexander wisely introduces some of his ideas and alludes to its ending as the album begins (the line "I live like I died like twice / I need to be focused" appears on opener "Clouds" and closer "2L"), before circling back to tell us how he got there.

 

While the journey that Alexander makes over the course of Kushlov isn't epic or earth-shattering in any sense, it's a more-than-relatable character study of a man beginning his venture into adulthood. The contemplative "Outside, Pt. 1" and its edgier companion "Outside, Pt. 2" see Alexander weighing the pros and cons of "going outside" -- leaving the world he knows behind in search of success, despite the risks and dangers that wait for him there. On the following "Playboy's Prayer" he raps, "Keep it a buck, I gotta keep it precise / They tell me mo' money mo' problems, but I never prayed for a simpler life."

 

Along with his struggles on how to approach his budding career as an artist, tracks like "Warmth" and "Joy" are centered around how his growth impacts his personal relationships. Tying two motifs together on "Joy," Alexander and Breasia Denee sing about sharing that aforementioned smoke before he hits the road (over a flowery beat courtesy of noted Tech N9ne and Mac Lethal collaborator Seven).


Following the cryptic and chaotic "Fear And Paranoia" interlude, the album concludes with three tracks -- "40Acr," "Madness," and "2L" -- of Alexander stepping on the gas and fending off industry ghouls Mad Max style. And for the feat of making it this far, he declares himself a winner. The good guys always win, right?

 

The Kushlov Effect, Vol. 1 doesn't stray all too far from Alexander's previous Memento Mori, but every element of it is bumped up a full notch or two. Alexander Preston's jubilant "2L" beat and Play Odds' rumbling, stutter-stepping frustration on "Madness" (among several others) mark achievements in production. Alexander's melodic intuition and rapping prowess -- while not the main focus -- are sharper than ever. And as discussed previously: the storytelling. Don't be surprised when Aaron Alexander drops a New York Times best-seller in 2030. Until then, we have Kushlov.

 

Listen to The Kushlov Effect, Vol. 1 below or on any streaming platform.

 

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