Here in the final stretches of the second decade of the 21st century, an overwhelming murkiness is taking over art. Blockbuster films and tv shows are coated in shadows and sickly color palettes, the comics frequently inspiring them are doubling down on that and in music apocalyptic trap rules the roost. You’d think the aptly named Underworld Dust Funk collective would be swerving into that, since murky is more than a descriptive term for what they do, it’s a way of life. But on Misfit II, UDF star Martis Unruly’s follow-up to last year’s masterful Distant, the murkiness dissipates, revealing a rotten core that’s all the more horrifying in its clarity.
Unruly and collaborator Khrist Koopa embraced the murk on Distant, using the confusion and chaos it brought to provide a narcotically hazy experience. Every phrase uttered on the album served as verbal tea leaves where you could read any number of things into it because of Unruly’s mush mouthed delivery, situated somewhere between sleep talking and an unidentifiable growl in the night. Misfit II is just as dark and disturbing and thick but the tones are glassy in texture, Unruly’s lines more fluid, the threats unmistakable. As Unruly puts it on “Tofu,” now he’s looking to kill you like Michael Meyers, meaning in full view, an unstoppable force always walking towards you, staring right into your face as he brings the knife down.
Think of the prior work of UDF as a murderous fog and Misfit II a gleaming creature emerging from it, delivering on all the promise that came before and then some. Though Misfit II has more producers assembled on it than Distant, they’re all utilizing a consistently jagged aesthetic, less fog-splitting bells and leviathan bass, more atonal screeches and scratchy rhythms. “Feral Hippie” even has an honest to god Vangelis-like synth riff bubbling up out of fax machine skronks to spur on Unruly as he offers up a detailed account of how he’s been causing shit since his actual birth.
The tracks on Misfit II also showcase a newfound vocal confidence from Unruly, placing him at the forefront of the mix rather than buried in the middle of it like a reanimated corpse clawing itself out of soggy dirt. Because Unruly’s voice naturally has a rough, syrupy vibe to it, much of the production, like Trowa Barton’s glimmering “Nicotine,” drops the low end to focus on piercing synths and heavily filtered beats. BMB Loko Los’ “Heavy” takes that especially far, providing Unruly a futurist pop sheen, all synth pads, cash register percussion and what goes for a cheerful melody in the land of UDF.
There’s a similar shift in the aesthetic of Koopa, with album highlight “Carnivore” sustaining itself not on Koopa’s signature synth bell tones but woodsy percussion that pushes Unruly to get more adventurously rhythmic in his delivery. It’s a smart approach for Unruly’s sound and not coincidentally Yung Tone’s “Mortician” beat serves as the clearest competition for best moment on the album thanks to its own percussion heavy style. Except in the case of “Mortician” the beat has no organic textures, instead it utilizes a relentless release valve airiness and blown out drums to amplify the aggression that’s always simmering beneath the surface of Martis Unruly’s voice.
Martis Unruly and the rest of UDF have arguably struggled to get notice specifically because of how ahead of the curve they are, so that bitter aggression is far more pronounced here, but not in an off-putting way. Distant seemed like an honest attempt to get fans of more popular trap acts to pay attention to what Unruly was up to and that seems to have provoked Unruly to turn away from that scene entirely and make art that embraces his outsiderness while shouting a firm fuck you to anyone who doesn’t get it. If Distant served as the closing chapter to the murkier end of the UDF saga, Misfit II is the beginning of UDF at their clearest and most fearless, pushing their natural sound towards less recognizable but no less thrilling terrain.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover