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By the Time I Get to Phoenix

by Injury Reserve

Released September 15, 2021

Reviewed September 27, 2021

Top tracks (based on community voting)
Knees (75%), Superman That (48%), Outside (40%)

Although most of By the Time I Get to Phoenix was completed before the passing of Injury Reserve’s Jordan Alexander Groggs, the consuming grief from the loss of a talent, friend, and father permeates this record to its core. You can only trudge through Phoenix, for its humidity, blaring sun, and flurries of debris cloud every path. Dense, post-apocalyptic soundscapes twist and torment, mutating into rich walls of noise touching experimental hip-hop, wonky glitch, industrial, post-punk, and neo-psychedelia. Phoenix redefines Injury Reserve’s percussion methodologies, cluttering every corner of the production on “Superman That” or “Footwork in a Forest Fire;” consistently slicing it up until it’s almost unrecognisable on “Wild Wild West” and “Ground Zero.” Or, constructing the beat with a drum 'n' strum combination with more to supplement on “Knees.” Still, the group lets up neither their wit nor vulnerability; distorted, hungry vocal performances lend to the instrumental atmosphere perfectly, telling anecdotes and concerns of oneself, trans-humanism, the state of the world, aging, and loss. Phoenix is harsh, harrowing at times, captivating, and moving. Never before have I given a perfect score to a new release, but Injury Reserve covers new ground in a concise, sharp, and poignant way. They tease and tilt the borders of hip-hop without slipping into another genre completely. Phoenix has a prescience of a new hip-hop that I can only hope eventually manifests, legitimising its status as possibly one of the best albums of all time. – Cam (10/10)

Whereas Injury Reserve’s self-titled 2019 effort ends on one of hip-hop’s most wholesome and celebratory notes with “Three Man Weave,” their follow-up is markedly more somber. The group’s first output since the passing of Stepa J. Groggs—one-third of the trio—By the Time I Get to Phoenix is shrouded in the uncertainty and pain that comes with losing a brother. Corey Parker’s production has always found its footing in jarring rhythms, but not like this. Phoenix cuts out the explosive production almost entirely, committing to an atmospheric sound that fully embraces the fringe influences of their previous work. If Groggs’ vision for this record was to “make some weird shit,” Ritchie and Corey absolutely fulfilled his wishes. Brooding at times, deeply sentimental and introspective at others, Phoenix combines haunting ambience, eccentric percussion, and a mastery of samples—including Black Country, New Road’s “Athens, France” and Shellac’s “The End of Radio”—to craft a masterpiece that shatters all expectations. Injury Reserve has pushed the boundaries of hip-hop at every turn, but their tribute to the life and work of Groggs defies convention that despite its greatness, it couldn't be more bittersweet. – Dominick (10/10)

Immense grief and strife have become societal norms in the COVID-era, with death and conflict in absolute control of every living moment. Injury Reserve—the Tempe, Arizona rap group—skillfully wields the creative byproducts of their distress to produce an album that truly defines the times we live in. By The Time I Get to Phoenix is the first album released by Injury Reserve, a trio, since they’ve tragically become a duo. Distant murmurs from the group’s fallen brother are infrequent, yet harrowing additions to the album that were foretelling of the terms of his premature death. In many ways, this album serves to eulogize things we lose physically and metaphysically through the passage of time. While themes of loss, isolation, and the cruelty of reality are things we may all relate to, Parker Corey’s magnetic production and Nathaniel Ritchie’s heartfelt poetry are what make their tribute as immediately resonant as it is. For a group that had all the potential in the world, By The Time I Get To Phoenix is a fitting, albeit bittersweet memorial of the things we’ve all lost in the undying flame of the past. – DeVán (9/10)

“Make some weird shit” was the mission that Stepa J. Groggs gave his bandmates, Ritchie with a T and Parker Corey, and they succeeded. By the Time I Get to Phoenix is the latest album by Injury Reserve, dedicated to the late Groggs following his death in 2020. Exploring a completely new sound than previous projects, this album feels like the aftermath of an apocalypse. With nothing but despair and the ghosts of the past, the survivors ask, “What now?” The word “experimental” gets thrown around a lot by music fans and has lost its meaning; Injury Reserve describe the sound of this record as “post-rap,” and it’s far more accurate. There are beats and rap verses here, but they’re so degenerated and unrecognizable as rap as we know it. Phoenix throws electronic, IDM, and noise rock into a blender and pours it into an Injury Reserve record. Producer Parker Corey outdoes himself, creating a hellscape of sound that is dark and chaotic. And obviously, the death of Groggs plays heavily into the themes of the record. Like Phife Dawg on the last A Tribe Called Quest record, pre-recorded verses from Groggs show up like an audio ghost. On “Knees,” his last verse on the album, Groggs says “I should probably take this booze off my rider/Okay, this last one is my last one, shit/Probably said that about the last one/Probably gon' say it about the next two.” A prediction that is significantly more tragic given the context. It’s hard for me to say how I’ll feel about this album in years to come, but for now, I’ve liked it more with every listen. This haunting and beautiful album is a fitting tribute to Stepa J. Groggs and the madness of the times we live in. – Daniel (8.5/10)

Cam: 10/10 | Dominick: 10/10 | Hadley: 10/10 | Ben (Synth): 9.5/10

Jared: 9.5/10 | DeVán: 9/10 | Alan: 8.8/10 | Daniel: 8.5/10 | Peter: 8.5/10


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