Fat Jon & Styrofoam: The Same Channel
Morr Music

Fat Jon (Jon Marshall of the Cincinnati-based, progressive-Hip-Hop-collective Five Deez) and Styrofoam (guitarist and laptop artist Arne van Petegem) appear to be equally enthusiastic on the topic of collaboration: witness Marshall's album and tour hook-up with Pole from a few years back and the appearance of Ben Gibbard, Andrew Kenny, and Valerie Trebeljahr on van Petegem's 2004 outing Nothing's Lost as proof. So while on the one hand it may seem startling for the Cincinnati MC and Belgian electro-pop artist to join forces, on the other it's not that surprising in light of their CVs. Though their relationship began in 2001 when van Petegem invited Ohio resident Marshall to a workshop in Antwerp, the album signifies the first time Styrofoam has worked with a sole co-producer on an entire album, making The Same Channel a full collaboration for both artists in all senses of the word.

The ten cuts blend the refreshing intelligence of Fat Jon's progressive-minded versifying (i.e., “I suppose, I ponder, I wonder / Contemplate, pontificate, proliferate my numbers” and “Multifarious angles for the well rounded / Intellectuals fold when left dumbfounded”) with Styrofoam's trademark winsome melancholia. In truth, the opening trio of songs adheres to a similar pattern—Jon's staccato MC attack alternating with Styrofoam's dour choruses—suggesting that the album may prematurely lapse into predictability. Though “Acid Rain Robot Repair” nicely embeds Fat Jon's dexterous flow within an appealing synth-heavy electropop base, “Bleed” verges on overly ponderous and, by the time van Petegem's singing surfaces in “Runnin' Circles,” the song's chorus begins to seem like a retread of what's come before. Wisely, the duo shift gears and chart new directions with the funky “Space Gangsta” (the disc includes a video for the song) and the jubilant soul-sparkle of “Upgrade.” Despite the aggro hint in its title, the electro-raver “Scream It Out” lightens the mood with a Talking Heads-style chant and, though “The Middle” revisits the mood and style of the opening songs, its chorus is strong enough to excuse the gesture. The Same Channel exits gracefully with a dreamy reprise of “Upgrade” that features van Petegem's vocals only. Ultimately, what at first might seem an incongruous match-up (on paper at least) proves to be satisfying with Styrofoam's electro-pop melancholia offset dramatically by the driving force of Fat Jon's verbal acrobatics.

November 2006