Hex Dealer

In their music video for “In the Wawa (Convinced I Am God),” New York four-piece Lip Critic play avaricious record label execs, who realize the band (also portrayed by themselves) has stolen their masters. With the execs on their tails, Lip Critic incinerates the CDs with blowtorches, rendering them nothing more than melted plastic. The video exemplifies how the band approaches creation: like a hydra, cutting off one line of influence only to sprout new strands to experiment with. On their debut record, Lip Critic throws everything at you—dance punk, digital hardcore, heavy noise—and see if it’ll stick. At just over 30 minutes, this is an album of endurance and pure adrenaline; the mayhem makes Hex Dealer an exhilarating listen.

The band officially came together while studying at SUNY Purchase in 2018. The Westchester school boasts alumni like Mitski, so Lip Critic’s harsher sound immediately clashed with their more indie rock-oriented cohorts, sometimes literally; frontman Bret Kaser recalls an online post complaining about noise from their band practices traveling across campus. Lip Critic’s ethos resembles Death Grips in their raw, uninhibited performances, but their thematic interests also approximate a more raucous iteration of fellow Brooklynites Model/Actriz. On opener “It’s the Magic,” where Death Grips’ influence is most evident, blown-out percussion pounds against Kaser’s vocals, echoing DG multi-instrumentalist Zach Hill’s uncompromising, primal drumming on “No Love,” one of their most recognizable tracks.

Hex Dealer is a loose concept album about predatory preacher-types who resort to snake oil tactics to fulfill their craving for control. In this world, everything is a means to gain power, a façade to mask these characters’ true depravity. They numb their emptiness with overconsumption; whether that’s brand new jeans on “It’s the Magic,” trips to the butcher’s shop on “Bork Pelly,” or creating the ultimate gas station hoagie on “In the Wawa.”

The album is a master class in genre-hopping, running the gamut of drum’n’bass, hip-hop, and ska. It feels as though Hex Dealer is a litmus test; take Lip Critic as they are or not at all. When “Love Will Redeem You” breaks out of the gate with pitched-up vocals and anxious percussion, it seems things can’t get any more abrasive—and yet there are still 10 songs to come. “The Heart” immediately follows, the tempo accelerates, the drums get harder, and the noise gets thicker and more suffocating. The con man at the center of the song grapples with his vices, and punctuated by Kaser’s rapid yelps, he convinces himself that he hasn’t succumbed to corruption.

Hex Dealer is as frenzied as it is hilarious. On “Bork Pelly,” the band hands over duties to the now-dissolved Philly grime duo Ghösh for a verse that sounds like something Baby Billy Freeman of The Righteous Gemstones would market to you: “Take this flesh and take this wine/It will all be yours/And you’ll all be mine/For three easy payments of $19.99.”

The record starts cautious and distrustful, but ends with a smug shrug. “I never seem to win/I’m losing every day,” Kaser sings on “Toxin Dodger.” “So I’ll become the problem/That I refuse to change.” Like Frankenstein’s monster, Hex Dealer’s encyclopedic curation and roots might sound like a disaster. But that’s half the fun of it, and even when everything has gone to shit, Lip Critic still makes it sound like a party.

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Lip Critic: Hex Dealer