Political Animals Channel The '90s On 'Egobese'

As 2016 winds down (thank god), I find myself revisiting "Egobese," an LP by New Haven hip-hop/rock band Political Animals, released in September.

The word "Egobese" is derived from "ego" and "obese," an overblown, overindulged sense of self. You'll hear it in "Wackness," the third track, where rapper Sotorios Fedeli dresses down self-important artists, over a sinister, three-note vamp: "This team of haters is rearranging the words / on a piece of paper / people thinking they're yours," "You didn't go on tour / you drove to the next state," and so on. Like the rest of "Egobese," it's angry, contagious, alive and sorta fun.

The band, named after Book 1 of Aristotle's "Politics," consists of Fedeli, drummer Trent Wright, bassist Jenny Harper and, until recently, DJ N.E.B. "He decided our music wasn't for him, so he left," Wright says. (Veteran DJ Mo Nikls has been filling in at live shows.)

In a sense, "Egobese" marks the end of the band's early phase. Wright met Harper and Fideli in 2009. DJ N.E.B. joined in 2011; a seven-song EP, "When Animals Attack," came out that spring. Two singles on "Egobese," "Ultra Violence" and "Man the Mic," have been floating around since 2013.

"Egobese" shares a spiritual (if not necessarily musical) affinity for retro video games; tattoo artist Steve Cacioppo drew the album logo and the Egobese character — a wolf-man with multiple eyes — is based on the Sega Genesis game Altered Beast.

Elsewhere, "Egobese" harkens back to the 1990s: the aggressive, boom-bap grooves and Rage Against the Machine drum-bass vibe of "Clint Beastwood"; the record-player ambience and vocal samples on "PSA" (with a guest appearance by rapper Blacastan); Harper channeling Les Claypool on "Harpoon," a James Brown-ish instrumental jam.

"Everything seems to go back to the '90s: style, fashion, music, sports," Wright says. "In hip-hop, everyone remembers the '90s as the Golden Age. Even in video games, the '90s were the height of the Sega vs. Nintendo battle."

Wright grew up playing Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games. He remains an avid retro-gamer. "It's bigger than it ever was, in terms of collecting," Wright says. "The original versions are going up in price."

Political Animals produced and recorded all the tracks themselves at DJ N.E.B.'s studio. Three songs — "Man the Mic," Ultra-Violence" and "Who Want What" — were mixed in New York City by Matt Labozza, who also mastered the entire album. A limited number of orange cassettes, some of which come bundled with a blank Sega Genesis cartridge, are for sale.

The band plans to adjust and grow in 2017 by adding sung vocals and exploring stretched-out, festival-friendly jams. Guitarist Robbie Chemical, who also plays in the prog-metal band Tanuki Suit (and who performed at the "Egobese" album-release show in the fall) is already on board as a full-time member.

"[Guitars are] something we purposely avoided in the past," Wright says. "We didn't want to sound like every other hip-hop band, the jazzier hip-hop, but it definitely brings in a new sound. It works out better, in a way. You don't want to make the same record over and over again."

Expect a new five-song EP (two songs on vinyl, the rest digitally) early next year. To that end, Political Animals won't gig again until February.

"We really want to focus on writing and trying to get these songs done," Wright says. "We already have the skeleton for most of them. It's just a matter of getting time to record them."

Listen to and purchase Political Animals' music at Bandcamp and pacthiphop.com.

Editor's note: Press Play is a column exploring the underground musicians of Connecticut. If you have new music to share, send it to mhamad@courant.com.

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