On ‘CIVIC TAPE,’ J. Fisher builds a world of his own while confronting his demons

Listening to the Michigan-based rapper, producer, and leader of the Hidden Garden Cult's latest "data-crunched" project is like being a fly on the wall in his mind.
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A singer-songwriter from Boston, MA that also writes blogs about music from time to time. A loud and proud as fuck member of the Alt-Black, LGBT and autistic community.

Has anyone ever seen the YouTube show Tales From The Trip? It’s a Comedy Central Animation-hosting show where comedians, artists, drug experts, and the like tell vivid stories about their experiences with drugs—many of which come off as a trigger for many participants’ spiritual awakenings or, for lack of a better description, “vision quests.” Sometimes, they are funny; sometimes, saddening. The stories, nevertheless, are always entertaining. However, these vision quests feel like the best words to describe Grand Rapids, Michigan’s own Jeremy Fisher. The rapper, producer, and leader of the Hidden Garden Cult always creates around confrontations of some of his biggest insecurities and his journey in trying to overcome them.

What makes Fisher’s albums—if not, his entire discography thus far—so engaging is that listening to them feels like being a fly on the wall of Fisher’s mind. Whether it be songs where Fisher discusses his suicidal feelings or his self-esteem issues in and out of the music scene, complete vulnerability and the will to face and dissect the world’s rigid and toxic idea of masculinity is where Fisher’s creative power lies. On THEJEREMYFISHER, his first album for Deathbomb Arc, he took on feeling insecure about his music due to having few fans, the act of acting masculine, and other topics that in a genre as reliant on unbridled confidence and heterosexual bravado as hip hop, it feels taboo to tackle out loud. I once actually described in the Sikestock Deathbomb Night chat on YouTube that Fiher’s music sounds like the type that can only ever come from living inside your head too long and too often. Like THEJEREMYFISHER, an album where the concept is trying to find confidence in himself, CIVIC TAPE is a prog-rap that doesn’t skimp on the bass-heavy bops.

During Fisher’s time on Deathbomb Arc, he had been working on a show named The Jeremy Fisher Show, a surrealist radio show (talk show?) that doubles as a vessel for Jeremy’s consciousness—much like his music does. The show segments surround Fisher’s albums, his talent, and another act of trying to get to the root of his personal problems. Before he does that, Fisher opens the album with the rumbling shit-talker “Gas.” On “Gas,” Fisher flexes now having a fandom, his championing of using what tools are provided to him over buying unnecessary plugins, being able to do shows while also revealing the sacrifice in getting good sleep over it. All of this over a beat that calls back as much to the rawness of Rage Against the Machine as it does the keyboard-heavy sounds of Odd Nosdam or Tobacco.

Later on CIVIC TAPE, Fisher showcases songs that somehow feel both too short and just right—which is a feat only tackled at a time when hits are under three minutes, especially for hip-hop tracks. From the head bopper “6-66-ECLIPSE-v15” to the underwater trap anthem going after style-biting producers “8-08-dotilikeme-v8” to the Bilal-esque “5-09-grow-v2″—a song that boasts gang vocals—each track is a showcase of what Fisher can do. Even when Fisher freestyles a song on the back end of “1-02-talk-2-where-v2,” it is brief yet no less satisfying for it. As far as the production, most of it sounds, as DBA described “data-crunched.” Imagine an 8-bit version of everything including occasionally autotuned vocals. “6-06-this-is-the-end-v1,” a frantic song about the end of the world, is an example of a song that sounds like a chiptune version of a British Invasion stomper.

As for The Jeremy Fisher Show, Fisher takes a deep look at himself and his anxiety through the spiritual guidance of a deep-voiced host. It’s to the point where Fisher notes “melting walls” and “demons” that infest the studio, all of which are supposed to represent compounding negativity from not unpacking one’s inner demons. Certain songs do trigger such a concern. Songs about the end of the world (“6-06-this-is-the-end-v1”), the search for some kind of chemical satisfaction (“5-12-DOPAMINE-v3”), and his struggle in getting blog love (“1-16-fuckin-beep-boop-v5”) don’t spell happy-go-lucky. But Fisher does manage to balance that out with songs like the digital Bossanova love song “3-08-this-is-love-v6.”

CIVIC TAPE is an existential dive into “the proverbial nothing” with the act of emerging with more than just mere bangers. It’s about not avoiding shadow feelings, but being alright with not emerging with real answers. If you come for only the tracks, you will enjoy what you hear, as there is a lot of material to sift through. Even if you aren’t as invested in the show surrounding the overall album, I highly recommend you open your ears to the album’s plot. You’ll be rewarded genuinely.

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