So much about the Richmond, Virginia duo who operates as Prison Religion is malleable, even down to their name. They’ve said in the few interviews that they’ve given that they’re content to operate as People’s Religion or Prison Relations, or “any cool acronym using P and R,” Warren Jones—aka False Prpht, half of the group—once deadpanned. Their Soundcloud page hosts a series of fragmented mixes called p_ropaganda, unsettling pieces of audio collage that come off like hellish radioplays. In an era where objective truths are continually debated in arenas that favor the loudest voices, a fixation on media manipulation and their general unwillingness to be easily categorized as anyone specific thing feels resonant. In 2018, on the internet, what’s in a name? Not much.
The music that Jones and Parker Black (who also uses the name Poozy) have made together over the last few years has a similar shape-shifting quality to it. Across a smattering of EPs and loose tracks, as well as solo efforts and those aforementioned mixes, they’ve established a sound that feels indebted to both a whole lot of stuff and virtually nothing else. They draw on slivered, staticky forms of electronic music—industrial, noise, techno, and the sort of glass-shattering bass-heavy stuff that people have come to call deconstructed club music (whatever that means). But they also draw on legacies of metal and hardcore, throwing their bodies around at shows, punching low ceiling and screaming over PAs pushed to their upper limits.
They also sorta tread the line of the more outré realms of contemporary rap—the blistered sounds they use aren’t all that far from the in-the-red excursions of Pi’erre Bourne and Ronny J—and the pinched, rhythmic screams they unleash aren’t all that far removed from someone like the masked UK MC Scarlxrd. But they’ve been inveterate experimenters, pulling from all of this and more while making sounds that can be hard to find a handhold on—rhythmically or melodically. As they say via email: “it’s coming from a totally different place.”
The barely tonal beats of tracks like “SHOTS FIRED” have this way of making it feel like the 808s are falling apart or dissociating, like a crowd dispersing as Jones and Black spin kick in the center. One of the few real precedents I see for their genreless incantations is Liturgy’s unfairly maligned 2015 record The Ark Work, an album by a band previously understood to make metal that was now suddenly influenced by Three 6 Mafia. And Prison Religion’s sound is even more shattered and unnerving than that. It’s overwhelming, to say the least.
Today, they’re releasing a statement that makes all this make a little more sense, in the form of a six-track project called O FUCC IM ON THE WRONG PLANET. All along, the title seems to argue, they’ve been unknowing interstellar travelers trapped in this strange place, kicking up clouds of dust as they introduce new sounds to the internet’s strange underbelly. Appropriately, it’s their most alien yet, pushing further into noisy abstractions and vocal mutilations than they ever have before.
Of course, Poozy and False Prpht aren’t extraterrestrials. They’re two people from Virginia named Parker and Warren who originally met, mundanely, at an airport in South Carolina. But this new record finds the cosmic strangeness that exists in 2018—it’s the sound of looking around and realizing that you don’t recognize the world around you. “The title's this realization that our whole situation is so fucking bizarre,” they wrote. “We're living in Idiocracy. What the fuck is going on?”
The record’s closing track is one of its most immediate, a chest-caving two-minute piece called “Nibiru,” in apparent reference to a conspiracist doomsday event involving the collision of an unseen planet that will come and collide with the Earth. Appropriately, it’s apocalyptic, as the pair offer pitch warped screams around industrial horrorscapes. There are ghostly vocal samples, amorphous scraping sounds, thunderous kicks, and that’s about it—a self conscious attempt at invoking the terrors of interplanetary cataclysm without overloading the mix with moving pieces. “A lot of heavy music tries to put as much stuff into it as possible, especially with digital music, filling a lot of space with 20 vocal layers, all these triggered drums,” they wrote. Basically we wanted to prove that you can have just as much impact our way.”
Even though it’s only six tracks, only one of which breaches three minutes, the duo manage to compress a whole lot of dread into the record’s short runtime—a reminder that space is a fruitful setting for any sort of horror-invoking media. But that isn’t all there is on O FUCC IM ON THE WRONG PLANET, Jones and Black tend to be jokesters too. At a show this past weekend I watched them string together their noisy miniatures with found samples that were often pretty hilarious too—a few memorable passages quoted heavily from that video of a mom crying while she read the lyrics to “Norf Norf.” “It's funny, but it becomes ominous with all the synths we have over it,” they explain. “It turns something that became a meme into something that sounds really serious. It toes that line of funny and serious. It's like depressing memes that are funny, but also are so real and cathartic.”
Intentionally or no, it highlights an optimism buried somewhere in their music. As brittle and bruising as O FUCC IM ON THE WRONG PLANET can be, in those moments of chaos there’s ecstasy too—some unexplainable uplift. Space, they say, has that duality too.
“We watched the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch,” they said. “Something about that made us feel an optimism about humanity. I think that for a while, people lost this imagination of what being in space could be like. But we're at this point where super-rich capitalists are enabling space life for real. We want to perform on Mars, have studio space on Mars. Space represents the unknown. And that's something we're tapping into, pushing the boundaries.“
O FUCC IM ON THE WRONG PLANET is out today and you can stream it up above or snag it over at the Prison Religion Bandcamp.
Colin Joyce is an editor for Noisey and is on Twitter.