With a sound that wobbles between pop pleasure and delirious hyper-realist abstraction, James Ferraro has cast himself as a sort of 21st Century musical court jester, and NYC, Hell 3:00 AM is as much an album as a digital-age art project. It opens with a computer voice intoning the word “money” before moving into an evocative collage of murky electronic tones and slurry signals, and “Fake Pain” follows with a mix of soulful R&B samples, stoic vocoder moans and skittering minimal rhythms. The album sounds like someone at home alone staring at his computer with too many browser windows open at once.
In that way, the album lines up with Ferraro’s previous albums — most notably 2011′s Far Side Virtual — all of which survey the state of a world, both online and off, that’s filled with pop-up ads, preening avatars, and signifiers that are alternately empty and overstuffed. Parts of NYC, Hell 3:00 AM were conceived to address the horrors of 9/11, but even the weight of such a historical event feels fleeting and light, with siren sounds in “Stuck 1″ and news recordings from the day itself turning up in tracks like “City Smells” and “Stuck 2.” If that all seems alienating and strange, it is — and it’s meant to be. But it’s also disarmingly natural, the longer you spend with it.