They say art is a reflection of society, and Quelle Chris’ latest album Guns certainly fits that bill. Few titles could be more accurate in an era where gun deaths in America have climbed to their highest total in 40 years, simultaneously wrapping the essence of the album into a four-letter buzzword. And if the name itself doesn’t drive the point home, it’s more than likely that the album artwork, showing Quelle’s body buried under bullets with pistols and shotguns protruding from his eye sockets, will do the trick.
“We load up, lift and shoot / Nathan’ else to do” sets the tone as soon as you press play on the intro track “Spray and Pray,” as Quelle steps into the shoes of a gangbanger living a lifestyle he inherited. Dissonant, dreary keys create an ominous atmosphere, matching the eerie resolve that’s lodged in Quelle’s gravelly vocals. On the title track, he steps into the third person voice to look at the perspectives of several shooters, as he flips the phrase “coming to a city near you” into a chilling warning about the inevitability of gun violence across the county.
Of course, there’s more to the problem than the metal itself. Thus, much of Quelle’s lyrical content is pointed toward the people holding the weapons, analyzing them and how their words, skin, and background play a role in influencing their intentions. On “It’s the law,” he’s looking at the “multi-culti hatin’ whites,” introducing the song with a clip of a white supremacist stressing the importance of a white God and ending it with a comically pitched clip of Donald Trump during his presidential campaign. On “Mind Ya Business,” however, he’s the threatening partygoer telling off anyone who’s not in his crew, ready to wreak havoc at the first instance of confrontation. Here, jagged synths mesh well with his tone of voice, simple and straightforward enough to avoid all pretence while doing just enough to emphasize the menacing nature of the song.
Much of the album is filled with equally leadened sounds, creating the image of an industrialized dystopia warping the direction of the project. While it fits well in context with the lyrics, it does harm the initial accessibility of the album, as there’s not much color on the surface to hook you in. Additionally, his delivery is rather plain throughout the album, at times dragging a little too slowly to fully keep the moment engaging.
Instead, the production on Guns is most appealing when he relents and allows for more free-flowing instrumentals. Look to the introspective “Straight Shot,” where tender piano keys and airy harmonies make for what’s easily the most soothing song on the tracklist. When he teams up with Jean Grae and Jonathan Howard for a love song on “You, Me and Nobody Else,” the final product is much more brisk, a refreshing switch-up near the end of the album. The ensuing “Wyrm” is a fine song on it’s own, but even still, “You Me and Nobody Else” feels like the true outro to Guns, bringing a sense of finality that is rare yet much appreciated.
Guns is an album made for the uncertainty of modern America, looking at the world from a kaleidoscope of viewpoints to paint a holistic picture of the chaos. Quelle doesn’t waste a bar throughout, packing thought into just about everything he says. The scope of the album is impressive, but the artist responsible proves to be more than up to the task, doing his job and then some on one of 2019’s heavier albums thus far.