New Criticals

(One of three trailers for the album created by Ferraro)

At a glance, these songs might seem juvenile but the connections Ferraro is making in them are anything but. Like his recent mixtape Cold, there is a lot of amateurish (yet achingly sincere) singing. But any shortcomings he has as a singer don’t distract from the feelings he dials into: longing, sadness, fear, urban decay and isolation. Like James’ previous work on albums like Last American Hero or Sushi, NYC Hell 3:00am is as much about context as it is about subversion. Sonically, it's like a more self-aware, and less far-reaching than How to Dress Well. Where How to Dress Well’s music attempts to pay tribute to urban music to the point of pretention, Ferraro's appropriation of R&B music tropes comes across as totally authentic, and his lack of proficiency as a vocalist becomes his secret weapon. In terms of production, there are deep beds of synthesizers, hushed drums and soulful distant singing (sometimes auto-tuned and at other times naked and pitchy), conveying the kind of awkwardness and honesty of an early season American Idol audition or a teenager’s webcam cover of a pop song uploaded to YouTube. Recognizing that auto-tune is a device, Ferraro not only uses it on the album to express sadness but to convey a kind of desperate irony in using such a largely popularized tool used to represent melancholy (see “Fake Pain” or “Nushawn”). In this way, NYC Hell 3:00am’s exploration of sadness and aloneness, especially when listened to through digital devices, has the ability of rendering all experiences toxic while listening. Anyone who has walked through any city at 3:00am can visualize and find the distinct alien feeling that the album conveys familiar. James coos “There’s life in the empty city” on the subterranean “City Smells” and acts as a kind of desperate declaration. While “Upper East Side Pussy” and “Vanity” show sensuality colliding with distinctly urban sensations and situations.