Late into Moodie Black’s new album Lucas Acid, MB mastermind K Death growls “I ain’t really screaming/There’s no pain” and there’s a good chance you’ll think this is a lie based on what you hear around it. After all, Moodie Black are pioneers of noise rap, a subgenre defined by unholy howls, a scene with cacophony in its very name. And Lucas Acid is their noisiest effort in every sense: it is the sound of a universe being torn open, screaming all the while. But K Death is not lying. She is not the one generating the screams on Lucas Acid, it’s the guitars and synths and beats. And Lucas Acid is not an album of pain but what comes after pain, a 21st century representation of the crystal clarity achieved by the Sateré-Mawé during their Tucandeira ant ritual, once the bullet ant bites have pushed the mind past the point of sensation and into a new realm of awareness and maturity.
For K Death, that new realm of awareness is the embrace of trans identity. In the four years between Lucas Acid and Moodie Black’s prior LP Nausea, K Death came out as trans while our country voted in a man who has repeatedly gone out of his way to target the trans community. Lucas Acid is therefore in the unique position of being both a protest record and a coming of age record, packed full of the rage and sonic violence Moodie Black have excelled at from the start but laced with a swagger and sensuality that is not only unexpected in the Moodie Black canon but in noise rap in general (clipping.’s “Body and Blood” being an exception here). K Death is in the paradoxical situation of finally being at a sort of peace with her self and immediately needing to go to war to protect that peace.
Lucas Acid, then, is that paradox made real through the juxtaposition of K Death’s newly clear vocals and the gunfire assault of the instrumentation, dangerously jagged even by Moodie Black standards. The album’s beating heart is “Sway,” a fully erotic embrace of armaggedon of self, labeled by K Death as “my anthem to the trans community.” This is not an anthem in the optimistic, smiling sense but in the leading troops to battle sense, the proud declaration of beauty accompanied by reminders of the “horns” and “fangs” the trans community must utilize just to survive. The surging guitar on the track works to communicate the anguish in squalls and piercing atonal riffs so that K Death can encourage her peers to be “independent, feel the power” while she celebrates her own special “Arizona swagger.” What makes this such an effective anthem is that it emphasizes rather than diminishes the paradoxes of identity, allowing the people it’s written for to be their true self on their own terms.
This is a theme running throughout Lucas Acid, with the industrial brutalism of “Freedom” bluntly condemning the fact that “we want everyone in our image” and attempt to force people to silence portions of their identities no matter what it may cost them. In “Freedom,” K Death admits “I forgot who I was through the buzz/And the clash of the ring in my eardrums,” commentary on the toxic masculinity that immediately permeated the noise rap scene in the wake of Death Grips’ success. But K Death is uniquely positioned as an antidote to this because she realizes “I’m a beast, I’m a princess,” and there is strength and power to be found in that duality as well as in the realization that most of us are suffering because of similar suppression. As K Death states, “the pain isn’t mine anymore,” it’s communal and “we’re all on the floor with our chains up.”
No surprise, then, that Moodie Black’s targets are just as frequently their peers and critics as they are culture at large. “Screaming” tackles this head on, a twinkling spaghetti western instrumental egging on K Death at her most ferocious, eviscerating “fake motherfuckers” who have made her veins full of resentment for “plain pseudo punks/hip critics that are racist,” confessing she isn’t interested in saving a scene that abandoned her, that stagnated when Death Grips became the only critically and commercially acceptable version of noise rap.
Even with all of its moments of righteous fury aimed outward, Lucas Acid’s chief target remains the insecurities and anxieties that lurk within K Death as she continues to evolve and understand her identity. “I’m scared as fuck/A grown man inside a woman,” she quietly tells a lover on the romantic yet tragic “Palm Trees,” unsure of what her relationship with herself means for their relationship at large and whether the distance of time and place can be overcome now that the internal distance between who K Death presented as and who K Death truly is has been shortened. K Death never rises above a near tearful whisper or a palm muted growl on “Palm Trees,” its potency coming not from anguished sonics but from the feeling you’re listening in on a voicemail, peeking in at a too human moment. But if we trust K Death’s word that “there’s no pain,” and we should, then this too is freedom, a therapeutic acknowledgment that even when we’ve got a better handle on who we really are, we’ve still got so much shit left to figure out.
This awareness is why Moodie Black have moved beyond mere pioneers of a scene to rare artists who help define a moment and feeling in time. There is no pain on Lucas Acid because Moodie Black have opened themselves up completely to those who listen, tasking us with sharing their experiences and helping them throw it back out at the world to be restructured as something beautiful and true, terrifying and profound. Lucas Acid is a remarkable album, but more than that it’s a remarkable experience, an unfiltered display of an artist’s hope, anguish and anxiety gifted to us when we need it most.
Correction: an earlier version of this review incorrectly identified Sean Lindahl, Moodie Black’s touring guitarist, as the guitarist on Lucas Acid.
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