“Think Atmosphere meets Bright Eyes meets Nine Inch Nails,” is the way a publicist for the one-man show with the moniker Cex described him. Hard to imagine the sound? You have no idea.
In fact, the hip-hop/emo/industrial/electronic description is probably the most accurate offered to date. Although now-twentysomething Rjyan Kidwell has been making music for four or five years, his latest offering, Maryland Mansions, shows him taking some extraordinary, genre-bending leaps and succeeding admirably.
Cex came into existence shortly after Kidwell’s 18th birthday, and he was quickly picked up by fledgling label Tigerbeat 6 (now Temporary Residence Limited). After releasing several albums there, each of which got progressively more interesting and showcased more of Kidwell’s talent. Maryland Mansions is his first release on Jade Tree Records, home to fellow indie darling Denali. Despite the obvious pun in the album’s title, it’s also a reference to Cex’s home state.
So, back to that genre-smashing sound. Each and every track on Maryland Mansions can be placed into a different subset of categories, both lyrically and instrumentally. Clearly, Cex isn’t afraid to experiment, and why should he be? The results are fantastic every time.
It’s easiest to see the humorous-hip-hop influence in track two, “Stop Eating,” for example. With a relatively simple, rhythmic drumbeat in the background and layered, repetitive instrumentation, Cex shouts, “Food is disgusting / It’s what they make shit from.” While he does have a point, it’s easy to see the lightheartedness of such a song.
There is an abrupt change with the next track, though. In “Take Pills,” over a driving, repetitive background, Cex chants, “But I don’t need my eyes to see / My eyes have only lied to me.” One could just as easily picture those words on a Dashboard Confessional album; the difference, though, is that Cex refuses to be placed into the box of just one genre.
He doesn’t stop there, either. In the very next track, “Kill Me,” Cex takes on a very industrial/Trent-Reznor-sounding image. He wails, “I’ll apologize for the mess of my life / For the rest of my life, forever / Unless you promise / Promise to kill me first.” Such lyrics veritably beg the comparison to Downward Spiral-era Nine Inch Nails, and it almost seems that Reznor wrote the lyrics himself.
From his lyrics, it would be easy to form an image of Cex as nothing more than a troubled young man. One glance at his website, however (www.rjyan.com) shows that he’s relatively well-adjusted, and just plain loves making music. In his diary entry for Oct. 19, for example, he says, “I was going to go out of the house tonight, but I got hung up on trying to make a song and it got too late … Totally smiling.” I don’t know about you, but I think every college musician I know has uttered those very words at some point or another.
Although Maryland Mansions’ eight tracks clock in at just under 26 minutes, the brevity of the album isn’t necessarily a negative attribute. Because of all the sounds Cex employs throughout the album, it can get rather distracting to listen to any one particular song for an extended amount of time. By making each track between two and three minutes long, listeners are able to catch on to the track’s groove and follow along, but not get lost on the way. It also keeps things interesting, as your ears are constantly adjusting and you’re left wondering what Cex could possibly sound like next.
Cex is clearly one of the most unique artists making it big at the moment, and he’s our age. His bravery with lyrics and sounds should ensure that he never gets boring, and he has plenty of good years left in him. With this debut on a more-major label, it wouldn’t surprise me if we start hearing a lot more from this fearless, montage-making young musician. Keep your eyes and ears open.