Travis Miller is no stranger to stark, disturbing content. After several early (largely ignored) stints in genres like black metal and noise, he gained notoriety with his half-parodic Memphis rap homage persona, Lil Ugly Mane. Pushing the already dark and murky sonic elements of the genre to the absolute brink of their extents, Ugly Mane tracks either came out hilariously listenable (“LOOKIN 4 THA SUCKIN”), as legitimate, raw bangers (“CUP FULLA BEETLEJUICE”), or sinister, avant-garde opuses (“UNEVEN COMPROMISE”). Travis took the latter style and ran with it on his 2015 project Oblivion Access, his planned final project under the LUM moniker. Though largely ignored or underrated by critics upon release, Access created something otherworldly with Travis’ bleak and cynical vision — no longer seemingly drowned in irony or imitation, he ditched the pitch-shifted vocals, derivative or quasi-experimental beats, and gratuitously vulgar lyrics for a Travis that had never sounded so concurrently confident and insecure. Diving into mental illness, mortality, filth, social issues, critics, and fans, backdropped by a harsh, spacious, and disturbed array of instrumentals sounding unlike even other experimental or noise rap contemporaries (e.g. Death Grips, clipping., or BLACKIE), Oblivion Access seemed Travis’ ultimate sendoff.
Yet suddenly at the start of 2017, Travis returned with a brand new alias, sound, and supposed series. The first (and for now, only) installment was titled “Flick your tongue against your teeth and describe the present” listed as “bedwetter.” His Bandcamp description of the project opens with “I really thought today would be the start of something different” and the album itself with a distorted, chopped up sample of John 1:1. Initially, it all feels a bit melodramatic and edgy. Until the actual music starts.
“man wearing a helmet,” the second track but first actual song, has Travis at unprecedented levels of vulnerability, fear, and agony, not just for his own music’s standards, but for truly anything I’ve ever heard before. Bedwetter raps from the perspective of a frightened young child being kidnapped — perhaps young Travis himself, or a recurring nightmare of his, or even a metaphor for the clutches of his depression. Travis scrawls this uncompromisingly brutal and grotesque portrait in blood and Crayola, filled with “chafed legs, denim tears, piss, vomit” and narrating his further decent into his (and his parents’, as bedwetter also notes) personal hell in this “hidden jail.” The song climaxes with a chilling return to the present: “all this time passed, I’m scared that I’m there still” before the drums and foreboding piano melodies kick in, with Travis’ urgent and deeply pained refrain: “all these f****** years, I just don’t remember.”
The album continues with further ventures into bedwetter’s corrupted psyche and personal agonies, via both bitterly candid verses and myriad instrumental interludes, venturing through experiments in electronica, sparse guitar riffs, unsettling samples and ambience. Travis flashes forward to the present day with “stoop lights,” a meditation on a life in decline. Bars contemplating family rifts, alcoholism, and self-hatred flow over the closest thing to a modern trap beat Travis has ever worked with.
vol 1’s truest moments of doom and utter frustration come on the final rap track of the record, “haze of interference,” an apocalyptic instrumental teetering between dark heavy synths and hi-hats and low-tempo boom-bap drums with the specter of a repeated Jandek sample looming over all. The raps are beyond cynicism, beyond fear, beyond contemplation — it’s a screaming, utterly defeated polemic against the agonies mental illness have brought him his entire life. Beyond even this, biting self-awareness and direct references to the audience and his fanbase are slung toward the end — “You’re treated like a muse / Are you happy now, Travis?”