Album Review | Experimental

James Ferraro, ‘NYC, HELL 3:00 AM’

With James Ferraro, one never knows if “subtlety” is just another conceptual parameter he’s tweaking for our (or his) entertainment. The prolific producer (who’s released several albums and mixtapes under his own name as well as the monikers Bodyguard and Bebetune$ since 2011’s critic-tickling/stumping “Far Side Virtual”) finds many gentle ways of fusing his fixations here — uncertain strings flow beneath broken R&B tropes, and Ferraro’s off-tune vocals wander from their Auto-Tuned comfort zone, sounding lost. Less gentle are the outbursts of media chatter. Like “Virtual,” “NYC” is dotted with product placement — several tracks open with a robotic voices deadpanning brand names, but the effect is sinister. Clipped sirens howl at the outset of “Stuck 1,” and “City Smells” interrupts itself with a birdsong of “breaking news” and savaged 9/11 newscasts. The lulling confusion of “NYC” uncannily enacts the unstable identity of the city itself. Ferraro paints it as aggressive, oppressive, and unknowable; then offers an audio tour of its darker depths, rats and all. (Out Tuesday)

Michael Andor Brodeur

ESSENTIAL “City Smells”