A friend of mine once looked over a poster for a Postal Service show in San Diego, when he noticed the name of the opening act. “Cex,” he said aloud, immediately chuckling to himself. On a later occasion, another two friends were arguing about the lanky white laptopper, leading one to ask, “You don’t like Cex?” which caused heads to turn rapidly.
It’s this sort of goofy wordplay that makes Cex so damn entertaining. Well that and he’s a scrawny white rapper that performs in the crowd and scares most people by walking into them and towering over their quivering bodies. But Cex, aka Rjyan Kidwell, pulls out more puns this time around on his new eight-song EP/album/whatever it is, Maryland Mansions. Yet, it’s more than just an ode to yuppies of his home state — Mansions actually sounds a little like Marilyn Manson.
Cex’s last few efforts were laptop hip-hop albums, more glitch than G-Unit, but still fresh enough to be considered an entertaining alternative to the wack ass shout-out-track-and-skit-flooded mainstream output. On Mansions, however, Cex’s rapping is minimal, reserved only for a few tracks. What Kidwell gives us instead is something far more menacing. The opening track, “Drive Off A Mountain,” begins nice enough, with some acoustic guitar loops and Kidwell using his voice for melodic purposes for once. But about two minutes in, all Hell breaks loose. The synths grow distorted, Cex begins to shout as if caught in a tractor beam and everything goes gloriously goth.
Live favorites like “Kill Me” and “Stillnaut Rjyan” are included here, as Cex fans undoubtedly have been wondering when and how they were to be released. The former is a Reznor worthy self-deprecating industrial track, which, in a live setting, usually results in audience shout alongs. The latter is similar terrain, as Kidwell howls along with squealing synths about being an astronaut.
When Cex does bust a rhyme here, it is amusing. “Stop Eating” sees the Baltimore MC saying, “this food is disgusting/it’s what they make shit from,” while the traveling salesman ode, “The Strong Suit,” has Cex rapping “I don’t get up-aaahhh,” like Jimmy Swaggart’s wayward son.
Maryland Mansions is a bit short, but there’s no filler to speak of here, making the record that much more enjoyable. All puns aside, Cex has proven his worth as a performer, and is ready to be taken seriously.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.