Fire on fire

Caro Khan introduce themselves as Pyronauts
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  August 7, 2014

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CEMENTING THEIR STATUS Caro Khan are one of the best new hip hop duos in Portland

Should you have spent a good amount of time reading through superhero comics while earning your degree in English literature, Austin Grossman has a novel for you: Soon I Will Be Invincible, a polyphonic piece where every interior monologue is delivered by someone with “super powers”—whether they want to have them or not.

Just how does a caped crusader earn a living? Drink a beer amongst company? Decide to try to conquer the Earth?

Should the book ever be made into a film, Caro Khan’s “Superheroes” must surely be on the soundtrack. Off the duo’s debut album, Pyronauts, it is six minutes of the most thoughtful discursion on caped vigilantism ever laid down over a beat. Featuring a verse each from brothers TJ and Chris Whitmore, the piece is driven by a simple bass line climbing up, with a drum kit played heavy on the snare and high hat. Then a synth line cuts through like light saber. You can see the reverbed fingers moving on the Casio keyboard while something like a dog barking bounces deep in the mix.

TJ opens, etching out a reluctant hero down on his luck: “a good Samaritan turned embarrassment.” His is a forceful whisper, not so much sinister as an aside. “How can I save the world,” he wonders, “when I can’t save myself?”
But it’s actually way less corny than that sounds. It’s all in the delivery.

And Chris’s delivery one-ups him. He’s moodier, with a bit more body, slinking around “with his briefs turned beige” like he’s just done a bunch of opium. He’s in your left ear, your right. He’s conspiratorial and asking for a bit of empathy. “I used to want to be a scientist and make cures for the sick / But now I’m serving the system” and “the howl of the draft is, in fact, my theme song.”

I played it back four times off the first listen.

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Caro Khan can have that effect on you. Not every track is instantly engaging, but many of them might have you clicking back to readjust your expectations. The title track is as much Nine Inch Nails as anything else, with Chris rapping at a steady clip, only to have TJ cut underneath with a rasp that’s black as your soul. And holy shit is that little keyboard solo well placed as a reset.

Later, Chris brings in elements of vintage Zach de la Rocha and Anthony Kiedis in “Badman,” a tune that sketches out a cartoon character with a “Sabotage”-style alarm blaring underneath. The middle verse is particularly nice, dancing along the crisp back-of-the-throat sounds with references to Okefenokee, Veruca Salt, and Haruki Murakami’s cat. He sneaks in Bukowski, to boot, in the first verse.

“7/11” has to be ironic, with all the talk of whips and a booming voice just repeating “dirty.” It’s damn close to Iggy Azalea, even when Chris is namedropping Iggy Pop. Somehow, though, it works. There’s 100 percent investment. Just as there is in the quirky “Stuck in an Elevator,” with flavors of Cake and Beck, from the crinkling finger snaps to the playful nostalgia that accompanies lines like, “every moment got delayed / Why couldn’t I wait until everybody turned away?”

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