CVS Bangers Volume Four is music to panic-shop to, down ravaged carpeted aisles that may or may not play host to stray little COVID cells in their synthetic fibers as you scramble with trembling hands for that last roll of Quilted Northern stashed behind the value-size shampoos. It’s so inane as to be haunting. It’s the sort of curated-for-the-lowest-common-denominator background noise from the outside world — the ignorable soundtracks of K-Marts and dentist-office waiting rooms — that we don’t realize we’ve missed until we don’t have much of an outside world to go to anymore. Van Halen’s “Jump” hits different when you’re staring at the wall in your apartment, and hits doubly different when the chorus is now suddenly punctuated with the sound of guns cocking and firing.
The hour-long mixtape is the fourth in a series by Brooklyn artist Jayson Musson (trivia: He’s the “now do the Harlem Shake!” sample in “Harlem Shake”), who puts them out under his art-world demi-troll alias of Hennessy Youngman, and it’s the first since 2014, which was 70 years ago. Hennessy meant to release CVS Bangers Volume Four in 2016, but as he writes in the mixtape’s description, “the U.S. election depressed me too much to finish it. I had everything laid out too, but I was just like ‘fuck it’.” Instead, Hennessy released it last week, to give the fans a “sonic trip back to a pre-pandemic era where [everyone] was just stuffing whole-ass hands down our throats and into our noses and coughing into each other’s eyes with nary a second thought.” A true, belated gift in these troubling times. Its cover art features the titles Hennessy thought up for the project over the past few years, reading like a trip through time back to November 2016 with names like “Harambe Rock” and “Bernie Would’ve Won.” The subtitle is “Antifascist Blues at the End of the World,” and the apocalyptic depression of it all feels pretty apt, now more than ever.
If this is your first exposure to CVS Bangers, your mileage may vary with the mixtape, which blends adult-contemporary soft rock like Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes” and Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” with an abrasive soundboard and hilariously, incongruously aggro DJ voiceover. When “The Sweetest Thing” starts up, the DJ goes, “U2? Hennessy, what are you smokin’? Fuck it, I’m out.” The overall effect is of familiar corporate background noise lulling you into almost forgetting it’s there (as it would in a CVS) just long enough to shake you awake with an airhorn, thrilling you right down to your irony-poisoned core.
The blend of numbness and rage is a salve in stupid times: This is what it feels like to be a citizen of a world that puts cruise-ship bailouts and corporate stimulus packages ahead of workers and the infirm, but to keep vibing anyway because empty nostalgia is cheap and mixtapes are free and it’s not like you have anywhere to go, anyway. Maybe I’ve been self-isolating for too long. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe Olivia Newton-John just goes. But if this sounds like your ideal work-from-home soundtrack, there are three more mixtapes (and a special “NSA Bangers” edition) where that came from. More fire!