The new record from Chicago based MC Serengeti and Berlin producer Sicker Man Doctor My Own Patience is a morbid, uncomfortable and beautiful reflection on life, wrapped up in somewhat off-kilter pop songs. Though a relatively unknown name here is Australia, Serengeti has always been a man boasting impressive creative output, dropping more than 30 releases since his first in 2003. His collaborations with underground music figures have included such names as Open Mike Eagle, WHY? and Sufjan Stevens. Hard to pin down as an artist, Serengeti floats between tongue in cheek, blatantly hilarious, and dead-pan serious with the ease of a feather in the wind. He’s a stylistic chameleon, who has changed his approach to music as often as he has changed his lyrical subject matter. He’s acted as the character Kenny Dennis over four records, a sausage loving middle aged sports fan whose happy-go-lucky existence was a mask worn to cover Serengeti‘s own perceived shortcomings.
A consistent theme throughout his many releases is his brutal, often disconcerting honesty. This came to a head on the 2013 release Saal, which is the predecessor to Doctor My Own Patience, also having been produced by Sicker Man. Saal, which plays host to some of Serengeti‘s finest recorded moments, featured sparse and haunting musical arrangements, peppered by Serengeti‘s shaky singing voice, and poignant raps about the world around him, or stories he told as characters he created. The line between fact and fiction is always fiercely blurred in Serengeti‘s music, which is one of his biggest draw-cards as an artist. It’s often hard to know whether he is singing about himself, or singing as a character he’s devised.
In the lead up to the release of Doctor My Own Patience, Serengeti referred to it as “Saal 2.” But the only similarities it holds with the record Saal are it’s personnel – the combination of Serengeti and Sicker Man is where the links between the two albums are apparent – outside of that, they are very individual, very unique records from one another. Saal is a soft, sparse and stripped back flickering album which features spoken word rhyming over minimalist song structures, and it is spine tingling from start to finish. Whilst Doctor My Own Patience is more of a pop record, with clear verses and choruses, albeit rather introspective ones. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two records is in Serengeti‘s delivery. This is the first album that the seminal indie rapper has not rapped once on. This was the most surprising element of the release as a fan of Serengeti‘s music. His singing voice has never been his strongest suit, but his dead-pan, almost nervous delivery resonates firmly with a listener for a number of reasons – but mainly because it feels honest, and bold as it comes across. The cover artwork of Doctor My Own Patience communicates the overall atmosphere almost perfectly – a black and white photo of the two artists walking through a street while rugged up, raindrops on a bush and patches of water drying on the sidewalk, a grey stretch of sky just visible through a cluster of trees. The energy of the record is that of the calm after the storm – there is an element of grey despair in the air, but the conditions are not so bad that you can’t walk outside. Whether this reflection of the music was a direct intention of the artwork is unclear, but the relationship between the two is undeniable.
The strongest three songs on Doctor My Own Patience come at the very start. The opener, ‘Doctor My Own Patience’ is a perfect pop song, performed with restraint and a sense of delicacy by Serengeti, allowing for the track to be both an ear-worm and a mission statement of the energy that Serengeti is donning for the album; that of uncertainty, self reflection, and self improvement. Lyrics like “I will eat more slow, so I will feel more full” are powerful if only for their simplicity, and the nature of shared experience that comes with them. This also applies to ‘Impress A Girl’, a song which clambers along like a New Order outtake, while documenting the pitfalls of trying to impress someone romantically, and having efforts go seemingly unnoticed – “I really wanted to impress you. I was nervous doing dinner talks.” On the same track, ‘Impress A Girl’, Serengeti repeats the mantra “take my time.” This statement in and of itself seems to communicate much of the ambitious record’s intent – it is patient, slow and natural; like an unfurling flower in time lapse photography. ‘Lose Control’ comes across with a delicate air, and an almost psych-pop synth line in the chorus, before a wild and chaotic climax. ‘Hills’ is built on a progressive dance beat that grows as the song moves forward, but retains the same urgency throughout. ‘Beltloop’ is anchored by a distorted bassline that is reminiscent of Joy Division. The wintery atmosphere is consistent throughout all of the tracks, and though there is very little change in this atmosphere, it lends itself to a consistent experience that feels thematic and constant as it unfolds to the listener.
Sicker Man‘s production on Doctor My Own Patience becomes more detailed on repeated listens. The multitude of synthesiser parts working off one another at the end of ‘Beltloop’ are detailed and subtle, their intricacies only becoming completely apparent when wearing headphones. The interplay between the ominous bass tone and airy synth notes in ‘Impress A Girl’ create an atmospheric and absorbing soundscape. The percussive instrumental stabs, hypnotic bass and head nodding driving beat of ‘Hills’ is a testament to the patience that populates the majority of the record.
While Doctor My Own Patience is the spiritual successor to Saal, the two releases couldn’t be more different. For a longtime fan of Serengeti, Doctor My Own Patience takes just that – patience. It’s the kind of record that grows on you with repeated listens, and each time you hear a track for another time, your curiosity about it will be piqued further. Like incense, Doctor My Own Patience burns slowly, but fills the space around it with a new atmosphere. Where this will fall in Serengeti‘s back catalogue going into the future is unclear – whether we are looking at a single detour or an ongoing transition into a new style completely remains to be seen, but either way this entry in his discography will certainly be an important mark on his artistry; mesmerising, immersive and hypnotic, Doctor My Own Patience might be exactly what we all need after this weird year that was 2016.
Doctor My Own Patience is available now through Graveface Records.