I was stuck in a place/I couldn’t get up/what happens next?
How does one begin to grieve growth from one chapter of life to another? Loved ones lost, a regressive sociopolitical landscape, and the impending fears of aging all come crashing down on one to the point of mortal acceptance. Memphis-based writer/rapper/producer Gavin Mays, professionally known as Cities Aviv, opens The Crashing Sound of How It Goes with an answer to this question: “Let’s make the day intentional… Let’s make the day worth something”. Yet seldom do we find an answer to these plaguing thoughts at any point of our lives, let alone at the beginning. Regardless, this mantra of “Let’s make the day intentional” is a starting point.
For the last decade, Mays has been quietly evolving his voice, as fitting ways to express himself become apparent. Listeners are quick to draw comparisons between his output and whatever movement in rap is dictating the current zeitgeist (see any of Pitchfork’s reviews of Mays work or the RateYourMusic comment box for The Crashing Sound…) but fail to acknowledge what strength lies in the freedom Mays wields over creativity. But in part you can’t blame these critics’ shortsightedness; Mays’ sound is impossible to pin down. He constantly switches up his sound from project to project but keeps hip-hop, electronic production, and collage-like arrangement as grounding forces that allow his voice in rap to remain completely singular. The Crashing Sound… is no exception with Mays allowing soul, jazz, and pop loops to articulate where his head is at.
Mays finds himself asking the world to help him bear personal weight on his shoulders; allowing production to build a foundation for questions he struggles to answer. “Near You” features a sample that cries out “I just want to be near you” while Mays asks, “what’s the status of these barriers between you and me?” Fans of ambient and loop music are invited to join with “Face Pressed Against Glass”, where Mays dives headfirst into electronic soundscapes that radiate piercing hope through the other side of his apartment window. The effect is similar to the brazen confidence of “Imma Stay Here”, with Mays unapologetically shouting self-love proclamations from the rooftop. Now don’t get it twisted, these two tracks are diametrically opposed in energy, but reinforce the notion that Mays is the protagonist of this discombobulated narrative. Both tracks warrant smiles from the listener, with varying levels of teeth showing. The smiles are few and far between throughout the track list but keep listeners from tiring over the Mays’ immobility.
If a single word had to sum up what Mays is looking for throughout The Crashing Sound… it would have to be clarity. Recurring themes of peering through holes (keys, crevices, levees breaking) litter tracks as the quest for answers unfolds. Why don’t we talk anymore? What went wrong? Do you realize what I gave up for this? Why is the worth of my life deemed less? Why was he the one to pass? These questions bounce around Mays’ head for the duration of the project until the levee breaks with the realization on “Series of Goodbyes”. Mays lets out a drunken declaration that he will “sculpt a better way to break the mold and operate” while thanking everyone that stayed with him through the process. He finds the crushing volume that uncertainty rings at in our ears is no longer as loud as it once was.