Those already familiar with Gold Chains know him as Northern California’s baddest-ass avant garde Socialist hip-hop producer, or something to that effect. Young Miss America, his first proper full-length didn’t skimp on the thumping beats, left-field instrumentation and all around enormity of sound. His rapping sounded a bit like Method Man or Ja Rule, but that didn’t get in the way of his unique electroclash production. Gold Chains made “indie rap” a title to be proud of, once again.
Well, he’s not really rapping anymore. Or at least he’s taken a break for the time being. His new outing, When the World Was Our Friend, a collaboration with Sue Cie, is more pop-oriented, though no less bumpin’ and altogether awesome. Upon listening to Friend, it would appear that Gold Chains, or Topher LaFata as his friends would call him, has taken an interest in making Prince-worthy funk-pop, though far more electronic-based than the Purple One ever was.
When Chains and Cie are on top of their game, they create catchy, danceable funk anthems, the likes of which I’ve never heard. “Better Together,” the album’s opener, sees LaFata attempting singing, rather than rapping, which is something he doesn’t exactly excel at, though for all intents and purposes, it works in this case. Nonetheless, the song bumps, as you might expect, and if Kill Rock Stars had the cash to grease the palms of Clear Channel programmers, it could “chart” as they say on the other side of the Atlantic. And then there’s “California Nites,” which sounds like a YMA outtake, in the vein of that album’s more rock-oriented numbers. It even ends with a shout-along chorus, appropriate for punk-rocker and jock-rocker alike. And “Multifear” even sounds a bit, um, ska? But somehow, it works, despite how awful it might seem on paper.
But, see, then there’s that Prince influence that seems to have entered the picture. “High Tide,” a duet with Cie, recalls the type of tune that Prince and Apollonia would have made. And “California Nites” wouldn’t sound out of place on Parade. Though, strangely, Chains has taken his libidinous tendencies down a notch, as Friend isn’t anywhere near the levels of perversity of his early EPs.
The hodgepodgery on When the World Was Our Friend displays an artist uncomfortable being trapped in a single genre. I’m not sure what exactly that genre is, but Gold Chains has expanded his abilities, regardless. It could be the added influence of new partner-in-crime Sue Cie or it could be the sound of LaFata getting bored. Either way, When the World Was Our Friend is fun, playful and full of interesting surprises.
Prince – Parade
Beck – Midnite Vultures
Cex – Being Ridden
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.