My generation has trouble focusing. This includes me. I’ve been struggling to write this first paragraph for half an hour, and would be lying to you if I claimed to have been working on it the whole time without going on Facebook (twice) and checking my phone. To put it bluntly, our lives are bombarded by way too many distractions and our attention spans crumble. We prefer to receive our news in the form of 140-character updates and lose interest in doing something if it requires a little more effort than we’re willing to put in. Now, is this necessarily a bad thing? I’m not sure. Regardless, this is the current state of my generation. We are overloaded on information, but lacking in depth and detail.
On ADDled, Toronto-based rapper and producer A-Merk captures this hyperactive zeitgeist with a surprising amount of accuracy and self-awareness. Like his (and my) generation, ADDled intentionally darts from one subject to another, failing to establish any sort of focus. On “Introducing the ADDled”, A-Merk alludes to the difficulties of paying attention and various addictions. He expresses his frustration with cops, racism, and society on “Shredder”. And on “Sharks in the Grass” he warns of freeloading, backstabbing high school kids. It’s clear that A-Merk genuinely cares about these topics, but like his generational peers he is unable to concentrate on only one.
Eventually, his inability to pin down his thoughts becomes overwhelming and A-Merk needs to escape, choosing to do so through drug use. The effects of the drugs are felt throughout the album as the tracks become progressively slower and trippier, especially on the latter half where songs like “Lost in the Waves” degenerate into formless, chaotic soundscapes. A-Merk frequently ponders the legitimacy of the supposed freedom he has achieved through drug use, as well as the possibility that his addiction gives rise to multiple personalities. A-Merk, or at least the character on this album, is deliberately confused and insecure about the person he is.
What accompanies these feelings of doubt and escape is a collection of outstanding instrumentals. Minimal, brooding beats rattle and echo under layers of claustrophobic synths, making these tracks seem rather sinister and otherworldly. Strange vocals snippets and effects are peppered all over the album, giving it a strikingly futuristic but ominous sound. Imagine a score to your favourite sci-fi dystopian film, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what ADDled sounds like. These instrumentals fit snuggly under A-Merk’s laidback delivery and combine to accentuate the sense of unsettling discomfort that creeps from track to track. Occasionally, his flow can get a little too blunted to the point where it borders on lazy, like on the second half of “Lost in the Waves”, even though it’s clearly done on purpose to imitate that drug-induced state of delirium. Some spots on the album drag too, whether it’s due to excessive song lengths or recycled themes. But these setbacks work in favour of what A-Merk is trying to accomplish on ADDled, because he ultimately succeeds in recreating that hesitant and capricious world of a loaded Gen-Y cohort.
I may have surrendered to my familiar diversions while banging out this review, but ADDled held my attention, and did so for multiple listens. That’s a strange compliment for an album of this nature, but it’s clear that A-Merk chose a theme and vigilantly built upon it with relevant lyrics and appropriate sounds. This guy put in work, and it shows. ADDled, in spite of its concept, is a focused and thoughtful release. And you best pay attention.
Recommended Songs: “Shredder”, “The Fear”, “Let Them Battle”