Across five songs on "Work Epic," released earlier this year, San Diego's Kurt Kohnen (a.k.a. iD the Poet) waxes philosophical about the invasiveness of modern work, its omnipotence and Orwellian feel. He's half Thoreau, wanting to improve the systems current flaws, and half Aesop Rock, a heady wordsmith, all rhythm and timing.
On the surface "Work Epic" is protest music, and it certainly looks the part. There's a genuine workers-of-the-world-unite feel to the cover -- which features an anonymous blacksmith forging the letters "iD" from metal against a decidely communst-inspired background -- and with songs that feel so anti everything, it definitely sounds that way. But beyond the Mao-era graphics and nihilist themes, the EP is also about a personal relationship with the idea of epic work.
At times, iD is in full proletariat poet mode, voicing the emptiness of the have-nots -- the small bits of the machine, the screws, its cogs -- with lyrics like "Provoking us awake / Another busted face / So tired and defeated and late for the race / No appetite for the hustle only hunger for fame / Wasted walking sideways down the alleyway / Wax figurines / Watching their lives and dreams / Vaporize as they drip on to the hot concrete."
While that's a heavy indictment, a sort of sign of the times, it's not the only perspective iD offers. While it'd be easy to adopt the usual counter-culture symbolism, iD (to his credit) avoids the predictable stuff like Marx, manifestos, socialism and the like. He also manages to voice his personal role in supporting the machine, and in a moment of self-awareness, he takes responsibility for it: "Just a piece of the system / I'm the piece that was missing / And I feel this pain / So much that I can't even use my brain / Just a part of the system / The one that's robbing us blind / That's my hand they're using, and that's my mind."
"Work Epic" works because it doesn't hinge on worn cliches or sloganeering. It is about the collective us and our relationship to the system, but it's also iD wrestling with concepts about big work (i.e., greatness): what it takes, how it happens and even the obstacles -- loss of the individual, minimum wage, routine -- that prevent it. It reminds us to create on an epic scale while also articulating the frustrations of the under-appreciated and overworked.