The idea that the album — as a unified, complete statement from a musician — is finished has been the subject of many great think pieces and essays over the past couple of years. Until now, the release of his debut LP, Checkognize, Abelardo Gil III, who raps, sings, and records as Treasure Mammal, would have been something of a poster boy for the idea that singles, seven-inch records, and digital EPs are the best way for an artist to distribute his music.
Gil has released a slew of songs over the past decade but hadn't committed to a full-length record until now. With Checkognize, he finally steps into that realm, and the record is almost as complicated at Gil himself, a father, a teacher, and guy who performs clad in bright spandex backed by dancers packing Axe Body Spray and Shake Weights.
"I wanted something with a lot of textures and songs [that] could take you somewhere new," Gil says over the phone while dropping off a keyboard for repair at Field Services Audio.
Checkognize is a collection that spans gauzy lo-fi soul, aggressive crunk sounds, and distorted Afrobeat, incorporating elements of Gil's influences, like German krautrock band Faust and R&B singers like Keith Sweat, Al Green, and Marvin Gaye. It's alternately hilarious, tender, and occasionally gorgeous. Tracks like the Auto-Tuned cover of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" and faux club banger "Shake Weight" are uproarious; the bumping "Real Talk" and "Bromance" take on patriarchal and gender roles; and "Maverick" takes on the Sarah Palin camp with the same aplomb he attacked Sheriff Joe Arpaio on 2010's Chronicles of Sheriff Joe, a comp featuring Porches, Fathers Day, and Andrew Jackson Jihad on Gil's own Kingdom Mammalia Records.
And though it's easy to peg Treasure Mammal as high-concept joke-pop, the record features the most open music Gil's ever put to tape. Opener "Dikembe Mutumbo" (assembled from clips of African field recordings Gil scored by scouring the cassette tape bins at a Goodwill outlet) sounds like Brian Eno at his most soulful, and "Stevie Wonder to the Bullshit" is dedicated to his friend Richie "Ressless Legz" Gimble, who passed away in January.
"It's the most emotional record I've ever made, as far as the emotional spectrum of things," Gil says. It's dedicated to Gimble, and "Stevie Wonder to the Bullshit" is about their friendship. "That's a song I wrote, and it was supposed to [be a collaboration with] Richie. I talked to Richie probably eight hours before he passed away. We were getting real close and wanted to work on something together."
There's hesitation in Gil's voice as he continues: "Life just happens, and fucked-up shit goes down. I decided I have to do this song, and I made it in a week. Usually, songs take me a while; I try to analyze every aspect of what's going on musically and what I'm saying, whether it's totally fucked up or not. I definitely put a lot of thought and love into that track, for sure."
As for the title? It's a direct quote from Gimble: "He would always say that when there was a fucked-up situation. If there was something he didn't want to encounter or deal with, he would just [say], 'Be blind to the fucked-up shit going on in your life.'"
The record covers a lot of geographical ground, too. Sections were recorded at 513 Analog Studio in Tempe, with Preston Bryant at The Tribe House in Phoenix, and at Gil's home studio. The record features contributions from Owen Evans of Roar and scratching from downtown DJ and crate digger Djentrification. Dancers Meghan Doherty and Daniel Funkhouser join him for his live show (as does, occasionally, Tye Rabens, who chronicled the band's SxSW trip with "The Real Talk Diaries," for New Times' music blog, Up on the Sun). But for all the help, Treasure Mammal could come only from the mind of Gil, whose job working with at-risk youth makes for a fascinating contrast to his gonzo art-pop.
"I absolutely have to keep the worlds separate, otherwise I'd be fired," Gil laughs. "When I'm there, I play the most boring human being ever. There was some . . . when I came out with the Sheriff Joe record, there were some reactions to the [promo mug shots printed in an issue of New Times] and a lot of our kids saw that and were like, 'Hey, this is you,' and I was like, 'No, that's not me.' I'm helping at-risk kids get their high school diploma. It's pretty linear. If there's an opportunity, I'm probably the weirdest teacher any of those kids have ever had, and probably the most fucked-up one, too. It's pretty ridiculous. I have to be pretty disciplined to shift [between the roles]."
His other role, as a father of a 4-year-old daughter, requires less self-editing. "That's definitely something were I can totally weird out." He's willing to admit that not all of Treasure Mammal's work is age-appropriate (sample complex, multi-level lyric: "I wish I had no dick, no balls") but hasn't been afraid to share what he does with his daughter.
"My girlfriend brought her to a show of mine once at Conspire, and I think some middle-aged guy walked out and said, 'God, this is awful,' and my daughter was like, 'That's my dad!' Which is so awesome," he says, laughing.
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Though the exploration of patriarchal roles, anti-fascist political messages, and "bromantic" relationships require some adult consideration, Gil says the message of Treasure Mammal isn't a complicated one.
"One of the big things about Treasure Mammal is that it's about allowing people to be themselves and allowing people to be true to themselves and fucking be whoever they want to be. If they are gay or bi — whatever you want to be and whatever you want to accomplish — I want to let people know that they can do it. They shouldn't be afraid."
And if that sounds like self-help, motivational speaker-speak, that's fine with Gil. The album's finale, "Checkognize," melds "checking oneself" and recognizing "patterns that don't work."
"As I get older, it's a bizarre balance between love and hate," says Gil. "I'll think about Arizona politics and I'll get riled up. I think that just the presence of the entity of Treasure Mammal is a threat to people. I feel like it's my job to exist and do what I do and continue doing it . . . because it just feels like I have to do it."