Plenty of album titles are gibberish, but as random as it might seem at first glance, Myke Bogan’s Casino Carpet strikes me as a pretty apt and efficient encapsulation of the album’s major themes. I mean, casinos are admittedly full of sad, hungry symbols, from old folks losing social security payouts to one armed bandits on down to those endless free cocktails meant to dull your logic centers. But have you ever looked down at a casino carpet? They’re gaudy and worn down, soaked in the smells and stains of celebrations that quickly go sour, drinks spilled from too much fun then from too much frustration. Casino carpets absorb the joy and depression around them, they don’t get to pick or choose, and Bogan makes a similar case for the Pacific Northwest rapper, a figure who feels perennially overlooked, who gets stomped on and written off and has to watch as some floppy haired hard partying white dude makes out with the big bucks.
It’s not that Casino Carpet is a melodramatic or mopey album, Lefty’s production actually enables it to be a breezy, easily digestible LP despite the complexity of Bogan’s flow and lyrics. There’s just this pervasive sense of righteous indignation at fate as a concept not anchored to superstition and mythology but instead to geographics and social structures and genetics. In “Originals,” Bogan pleads the case of the pioneer, detailing the struggles of someone who is ahead of the curve, nearly sighing “Yeah, they wish they was me” in response to a chorus of comparisons to lesser peers. The delivery says more than the words themselves– a straight reading of the line would be braggadocio, Bogan’s world weary utterance is anything but. Bogan’s point seems to be that he gets told often enough that he’s talented and now he’d like that to bring him some bonafide success.
You could even hear traces of that sentiment in his shouldabeen breakout hit “Here We Go,” a track that netted him coverage in XXL in 2013. There, Bogan lazily declares “Chasing dreams/It seems I’m a go getter,” taking a shot at the fiction of hard work paying off. Where that was coated in a lot of hazy melody, though, the bulk of Casino Carpet has a more rugged edge to it, now no longer half joking about the double edged compliments he gets paid. “6 Beers” may eventually have a chorus where Bogan lists out his intoxicants of choice in a sing song manner but before that he’s letting haters know they better have spent their time wisely while they were waiting for him to drop a new album. And on “Pink Cocaine” Bogan talks up a dream adventure with Walter White and Philip Seymour Hoffman, two tragic drug life figures whose ends are seemingly paralleled by the suicidal notions of figures in Bogan’s periphery, specifically an ex “Little Bo Beep/Who let her nose bleed/And now seems different.” Pink isn’t a pretty color here, it’s a sign of contamination, blood dripping out onto white powder, literally and figuratively, and Bogan gives his lyrics suitable viciousness, like Last Emperor getting script doctoring from Busdriver.
Coke isn’t the only drug giving Bogan pause though, as he tells a lover in “Sundress” that her sex is like crack to him. The Last Artful, Dodger contributes a hook that helps sell that line better than it reads on paper and there is an addictive quality to the romance depicted in the lyrics. “Sundress” paints a picture of love or infatuation as a constant buzzing high, a thing that lets Bogan relax, eating his hot cheetos and sipping on an Arnold Palmer as he reflects on the nicer things in life. Like any drug, the purer the dose the more amplified the effects are, leading Bogan to admit “My eyes don’t speak when we’re alone.”
There is less optimism in tracks like “Beloved,” where the title itself is tongue-in-cheek. It may be about family and the obligations and fears we have as a result of blood connections, but it’s anger that prevails more than love, from Bogan venting about a grandmother who refuses chemo because she doesn’t want to lose her hair to an ex soaking up attention from men with less than honorable intentions. Here that emotional absorption hinted at in the album title returns, Bogan frustrated that he is essentially powerless to do much of anything about the pain and disappointment that is all around him. “Beloved” begins with Bogan saying “these are my thoughts…my thoughts that I tried to hide,” and you can extend that declaration to the album on the whole. Bogan is an artist communicating exhaustion, he’s been bottling up his real feelings down here beneath our feet. But with Casino Carpet, he makes it clear he’s not interested in doing that anymore: “I’m on the run and I’m done being past passive/Humble pie left me with crumbs and a bad habit.” Maybe it’s about time we stopped walking all over him and took notice.
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