Music in Review: “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”

Music+in+Review%3A+By+the+Time+I+Get+to+Phoenix

Matthew Drewry, features editor

Injury Reserve is an Arizona hip-hop group from Arizona who first broke on the internet underground rap scene with their 2015 mixtape “Live from the Dentist Office.” Consisting of Stepha J. Groggs, Ritchie With a T, and Parker Corey, Injury Reserve featured playful rapping, colorful and unique production and a nuanced dynamic between the group’s two rapping voices (Groggs and Ritchie) recorded in an actual dentist office.
The group continued to build steam with their second mixtape in 2016 “Floss”, which made waves and gained positive critical reception, ending the year on many top lists and debuting a more aggressive style for the trio. The production continued to be fantastic and experimental, featuring many industrial and trap beats that added great depth to the project.
The group’s debut self-titled album, “Injury Reserve’’ released in 2019, received mixed reviews despite more amazing beats, higher profile features and a more polished release as a whole. The trio debuted some more emotional tracks but also featured a few unnecessary non-songs in the 38 minute release.
In between this release and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, tragedy struck the trio. Groggs, real name Jordan Groggs, passed away in 2020 due to complications from alcoholism, leaving behind four children. At a moment’s notice, the group’s future grew dim and the expected album teased on their 2019 tour was shelved.
It is from this grieving, introspective, headspace “Phoenix” rises from the ashes, in an apocalyptic, experimental, and challenging listen for even the most serious hip hop listener. While the loss of Groggs is the theme looming over the entirety of this album, Parker Corey’s production is it’s avatar. It’s grating, in-your-face brutality and emptiness is reminiscent of music from Death Grips, Clipping. and other experimental hip hop groups.
Gone is the happy go lucky, fun atmosphere of the group’s mixtape era, supplanted by a yawning abyss of loss, grief and hopelessness. With tracks like “Ground Zero” the truly apocalyptic tone of this album is cemented amongst a soundscape of pure distortion. Droning synths more akin to sirens litter the album, sounding like the destruction of a dying machine.
Verses from Groggs and Ritchie, and the album’s sole feature Zelooperz fade in and out of a brutalistic, industrial soundscape. Massive, booming drums clip in and out of the production like
the machines of a factory. Electronic distortion is heavily applied to vocals, including posthumous performances from Groggs, taking on a ghostly, ethereal quality. Fuzz-laden guitars dominate the mix on several tracks, giving a punk flair to some of the beats. dominate the mix on several tracks, giving a punk flair to some of the beats.
The most universally palpable track is the lead single “Knees”, an odd corrupted rock trap hybrid serving as the lead single for the album. Even on the most commercial track of the album, voices warp in and out, and snares seem disconnected from the rest of the track as Groggs ruminates on the alcoholism that took his life. It’s hauntingly beautiful as the artists bemoan their loss of their innocence and their friend.
This is a magnum opus and a coming of age for Injury Reserve, in what might be their final release, but it is not an album for everyone. For those acquainted with experimental music, especially experimental hip-hop, this is a cannot miss album for the production alone. For fans of macabre art this is a beautiful example. “Phoenix” is a beautiful, difficult tribute reminiscent of Mount Eerie’s 2017 “A Crow Looked At Me” or Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures”. The grief drips from each track in a harrowing, brutal and astounding artistic statement. I do not feel comfortable rating this album as it is so deeply personal and deeply subjective. It is worth your time and consideration to listen to “Knees” at an absolute minimum even if you might hate it. It’s good for you, I promise.