Using a complex arsenal of experimental sounds and crossing a vast array of genres, By the Time I Get to Phoenix—the latest album from Arizona group Injury Reserve—deals with sorrow and the process of grieving. The album’s title is a play on a classic Isaac Hayes song, and the sound throughout is expansive and often hypnotizing, employing a blistering collage of synths, distorted vocals, and ample bass from producer Parker Corey. The first half is drenched in darkness: “SS San Francisco” simmers slowly, with tense guitar riffs and grim vocals, before exploding into a sinister, punkish beat. “Smoke Don’t Clear,” a standout banger, uses complex drum patterns and hazy atmospherics to summon the feeling of a hot, smoked-out mosh pit.
Arizona is the final record to feature Injury Reserve member Stepa J. Groggs, who passed away in June of last year. Groggs’s presence looms large on the album, trading energetic verses with the group’s other rapper, Ritchie With a T. On album opener “Outside,” Groggs masters the beat with his tough, assertive bars, establishing a blistering level of intensity that remains throughout the album’s entire run.
Yet, within the madness lie moments of vulnerability, and Corey’s production choices on the album’s somber songs spotlight the fragility of the subject matter. This is especially true of “Top Picks For You,” a song-poem written in memory of Groggs, where Richie feels the spirit of his departed friend in shadows and familiar movies on the TV. Arizona is a raw record, but the emotion that lies beneath its hammering sonics make it a world worth returning to.