RIP III is a bizarrely unique album. It plays like a mixtape, sounds like a compilation record, and runs the gamut from desert rock to lo-fi, and yet it’s absolutely none of these things. The brainchild of LA-based musician Michael Stasis, RIP III is a self-described “greatest hits” collection, although that, too, is an inaccurate monicker for what the album actually contains. Hand-picked by Stasis from his massive, 200-plus archive of original songs, the artist’s first foray with Arbutus Records is both an introductory affair for new listeners and an intimately familiar one for returning fans.
RIP III makes no pretences about Stasis’ diverse experimentation with music. At a little more than half-way through the record, the intentionally jarring clash of the melodic ’60s folk of “Surface Area” and the sub-minute synth warbles of “Dairy Queen” (itself a fitting introduction to any Adventure Time episode) create a discord that, despite itself, proves interesting and thought-provoking. Where other artists have tried, and failed, to create genre-spanning albums in an era that has heralded the death of the Genre itself, Stasis’ easily-unfocused musical direction is refreshing and easy to absorb.
What is most satisfying, buried beneath the easy crooning on frantic single “Crushed” or “Greenskin” and its gently-chorused guitar, is the laid-bare creative processes of Stasis himself. Like a narrator unravelling their life’s story for an unfamiliar audience, RIP III is intimate precisely because of its diversity, and how very close to the skin each song seems to be. Largely self-recorded and produced, there aren’t too many layers that need to be stripped away from each song to get a feeling for who Stasis really is, or at the very least how he creates music. Rarely has unsteadiness worked so well to a musician’s advantage, as the obvious experimentation and trials that Michael Stasis undergoes throughout the record are only obvious in juxtaposition to each other. If RIP III were a more structured and streamlined affair, its intimacy would also be reduced to a fraction underneath the prevailing psych and desert-rock influences.
Stasis’ first outing with Arbutus is not without its demerits. The hokey “Pain” is a groovy but utterly boring addition to the closing moments of the record that falls flat before the soulful fingerpicked ending of “Smokey”: the price the artist pays for having a diverse portfolio of music contained in a single record is this occasional dud moment. Listeners looking for a simple album that, heaven forbid, sounds like it was all recorded by the same individual and, more importantly, during a single time in that individual’s life, should look elsewhere. The palpable and very real sense of passing time in an artist’s life breathes life into RIP III where Stasis’ desert-rock tropes fall short, and it is here that the real beauty lies.
Review by Fraser Dobbs