On the cover of Guns, Quelle Chris’s face is buried beneath a pile of bullets; there are firearms protruding from the Brooklyn MC’s eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s an arresting image to be sure, but it also drives home one of the album’s major themes: the ways human beings weaponize both tools and attitudes. Concept-heavy albums like this are Quelle’s forte: 2013’s Ghost At The Finish Line imagined life as a race; 2017’s Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often was about accepting your own imperfections. And 2018’s Everything’s Fine—recorded with Jean Grae and named Bandcamp’s #1 album of the year—was a kind of national psychological evaluation, with a grim diagnosis. Guns digs even deeper into that theme, trying to unearth the root causes of societal evils.
Quelle’s voice—alternately grainy and pliable, enthused and exhausted—is the perfect vehicle for this kind of multilayered social commentary. On the stripped-down “Spray and Pray,” he considers the way children valorize criminals; that idea of children being socialized around weapons carries through to the title track, where a character named Kelly shoots up her school because, “where she’s from, them 22s more patriotic than pie.” Elsewhere, he takes aim at selective law enforcement and religious justifications for violence, dismantling them over production that feels dark and claustrophobic, full of deftly-chopped piano lines, queasy bass, and groaning organs.
While Guns has its sights set on the evils of men, Quelle’s commitment to crafting albums with a clear arc means it ends on a moving, tender note. The penultimate song “You, Me & Nobody Else” expresses gratitude for finding a soulmate. On the album-closing “WYRM,” over a contemplative piano loop, Quelle considers his impact and artistic legacy. It’s a fitting ending; Guns may be given over to examining the darkness in the world, but it never loses sight of the humanity that’s at stake.