It's hard to say just where When the World Was Our Friend
fits into the musical landscape. San Francisco cool cat/producer Gold Chains (aka
Topher LaFata) has built a reputation around fusing seemingly incompatible genres, and this volume is no exception. "Come to Cali"'s droning thump is too chill to be dance party music; "High Tide", too poppy to be rap; "Multifear", too reggae to be punk. If you didn't know any better, you might think that LaFata had set out to create an album with a touch of every conceivable genre, using technology to fuse the mix. The result is so refreshing original, it not only cements Gold Chains' position as one of today's best and brightest indie-tech gurus; it also says, coolly and effortlessly, that genre boundaries are "no big thang".
Joining Gold Chains, in what we're told is a permanent capacity, is longtime collaborator Sue Cie. In addition to writing and production duties, Sue Cie's vocals have an incalculable soothing effect on the album, adding just the right touch of personality and humanity (femininity?) to prevent tech overload. In some ways, the male/female vocal interplay at work here is not unlike what you'll hear in The Streets' A Grand Don't Come for Free. The comparison seems even more apt when you take into consideration Gold Chains' vocal style; like The Streets' Mike Skinner, LaFata uses a combination of white boy rap, tuneless chant and melodic singing to tell his tales -- in his case, an extended ode to California. With the vocals functioning as a focal point, any lyrical misstep would be disastrous, but When the World Was Our Friend avoids that fate with surety, providing witty one-liners and non-descript truths in every sun-soaked verse.
Smart and interesting and unerringly different, When the World Was Our Friend is unfortunately not the type of album that will easily find an audience. Artists who make straight-up radio pop, laptop tech and indie rock generally have to sit back and let their fans find them. Artists who are in the business of combining genres with an almost prophetic sensibility -- well, that sort of work appeals only to a very special kind of listener. Gold Chains and Sue Cie's music is for the discriminating (but not discriminate) music fan -- the kind of person who says "I listen to everything" and means it.