Personal Soundtrack

15 May

The Song

The Train Pt. 2 by Big Boi

When the legendary duo Outkast are discussed, the popular opinion is often that Big Boi provides the swaggering, gangsta steez to their sound, while Andre 3000 brings the eccentric flair and musical tastes that range far outside of hip-hop conventions.  There’s no denying that the oft-reclusive Three Stacks can be awesomely weird, but there was a reason the group’s second album was titled ATLiens – both of them have sounds inside their heads that are unlike anything else in this world.

Big Boi provides evidence of his otherworldly side at several points throughout his underrated 2010 solo release Sir Lucious Left Foot…The Son Of Chico Dusty.  The album has several swaggering tales of the the hustla’s life, but Big Boi also pairs his wordy drawl with sonic flourishes that bring in elements such as funk and psychedelia.  The latter element is displayed most strongly in “The Train Pt. 2” – a standout track that defies easy genre descriptions and exists in its own universe somehow both inside and out of the hip-hop and R&B worlds.

With it’s lonesome whistling and electronic beeps and tones, “Train” sounds like a transmission sent to Earth from some strange faraway corner of space.  The song has its own laid-back momentum, with Big Boi dropping some reflective lyrics over a propulsive strumming beat; a slinky synth line dances about the rest of the track before taking over completely and trading notes with a triumphant horn section in an instrumental climax.  “The Train Pt. 2” is an epic sonic journey through Big Boi’s strange and funky universe, and these sounds will stick on something deep inside your head.

The Activity

It is some time shortly after midnight and you’ve just been awoken.  You lie in bed, sheets askew, and sleepily try to determine what pulled you out of dreamland.  For a moment, you hear nothing but the gentle whirr of the oscillating fan at the foot of the bed and the intermittent flutter of curtains as the fan’s breeze swings its slow arc.  And then, a strange yet instantly recognizable sound echoes out in the streets beyond your window.  A long and high train whistle, at once both triumphant and mournful, and overwhelmingly eerie. You shudder a bit, involuntarily.

An extended silence follows this piercing whistle, and for a moment you wonder if it had only been a strangely lucid dream.  You roll over and try to fall back asleep, but all tiredness is jolted away as the myriad sounds of a puffing and steaming train suddenly fill the street outside of your house.  This is no dream.

You clamber down to the foot of your bed and peer out at this Industrial Age vision, holding the curtain just slightly open so that you won’t be seen.  There, right below your window, sits a gleaming train, about six cars long, smoke billowing out the front and steam hissing out through the wheels.  The words ‘Polar Express’ flit through your mind before you remember that it’s the middle of summer and still a humid 75 degrees out even in the dead of night.  But what else could this be?  Some kind of dry run for the December main event?  There’s got to be something magical going on here – another peek confirms that there are no train tracks in front or back of this particular Express, which has the words “DADDY FAT SAX” emblazoned upon the side.

As you puzzle out the train’s origins, a figure jumps out from the front car and looks straight at your window.  This figure is wearing an astronaut’s NASA-certified jump suit, but in place of a helmet is sporting a pair of shades and a fedora cocked slightly to the left.  Before you can hide, this space conductor points directly at you and says, What You Waitin’ For.  Let’s Ride.

This silky, baritone-heavy voice has some kind of strange effect on you, because you instantly get up, throw on some clothes, and glide down the stairs and out of your house before thinking twice.  You find yourself standing barefoot on the grass in front of the conductor, who grins and says Big Boi Welcomes You To The Train.  You look around for a second and seeing no one else, realize that your new host is speaking of himself in the third person.

Where Are We Going, you ask, even though you’re already starting to climb into the first car, still under the seductive power of that voice’s strange pull.  Big Boi clambers aboard as well as the train jumps forward.  We’re Just Gonna Go Cruise To Space, he says casually as the train leaves the ground and does, indeed, begin to take off towards the general direction of space.  Still strangely calm, you ask one more question over the sound of the horn section in the back of the train car – When Are We Coming Back?  Big just smiles and says, When My Song Is Over.

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