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Brandon Wardell - An ASMR Album Music Album Reviews

Brandon Wardell - An ASMR Album Music Album Reviews
The extremely online 25-year-old comedian’s foray into a more traditional comedy format makes for an imposing and uneven listen, even for the most logged-on.

For better and worse, social media is a spawning ground for people who thrive on getting laughs—and that certainly includes Brandon Wardell. The 25-year-old Los Angeles-based comedian is part of a micro-generational group of aspiring funnymakers who have essentially gotten famous through cracking wise online, even while pursuing more traditional routes such as stand-up and sketch comedy. To date, he’s amassed more than 665,000 Twitter followers who keep tabs on his topical musings ranging from Juuls to Sprite-bottle gravity bongs and meeting Post Malone. “It’s the purest form of expression that I have,” Wardell told Rolling Stone in 2016 regarding his Twitter account. “There’s something super-visceral about Twitter. It’s just a lot of like brain vomit.”

You have him to thank (or blame, depending on how you look at it) for the “Dicks out for Harambe” meme, which he told Rolling Stone was riffing off of a joke made by his Twitter friend SexualJumanji; he served as the “opening act” for Bob Odenkirk’s 2014 comedy album Amateur Hour and has since hosted a Comedy Central Snapchat series, along with appearances on TV shows ranging from “What Would Diplo Do” to “@midnight with Chris Hardwick.” His press bio notes that “since Brandon’s appearance on those programs, they have all been canceled,” a self-effacing aside that nonetheless highlights a simple truth: the 280-character comedy Wardell and his peers traffic in doesn’t always translate well to more traditional formats. It’s new-medium stuff for new-medium audiences, which is totally fine.

Wardell’s brand of comedy is largely geared towards the Extremely Online, and that goes double for his first comedy album, An ASMR Album. Despite being loosely constructed around a smattering of stand-up material, it’s not quite a comedy album in the traditional sense; for one, the audience is wholly imaginary, and much of the material has been crafted to service the conceit of recording an “ASMR” stand-up set—specifically, an “Autonomous sensory meridian response” experience that resembles what Wikipedia cites as a “low-grade euphoria” as a result of hearing close-miked sounds. ASMR videos have taken up plenty of real estate on YouTube for a while now, and to promote the album Wardell recorded two mock-ASMR videos of his own for online content hub Super Deluxe’s Tingles video series (which typically showcases actual ASMR videos).

Suffice to say, the learning curve for enjoying—or even understanding the basic premise of—An ASMR Album is harsh and unforgiving for anyone who doesn’t spend a minimum of eight hours online per day. Even so, this combination of sounds-of-the-studio trickery and joke-telling can be a bit imposing for even the most logged-on. A few infuriatingly imprecise comparison points come to mind: Drag City’s gleefully antagonistic Andy Kaufman voice-memo collection Andy and His Grandmother from 2013, experimental composer Robert Ashley, and the unbridled antagonism of the closing minutes in Andrew Dice Clay’s The Day the Laughter Died. An ASMR Album isn’t so much a comedy record in search of an audience as it is seeking listeners to send into a state of utter confusion.

By extension, whether any of the material on An ASMR Album “lands” with listeners is largely irrelevant, and picking apart the jokes and set pieces it’s structured around seems to be of little worth amid audio gags like a tiny house band performing chiptune-sized jazz niblets, and Wardell supposedly lint-rolling his “damn ass.” But some jokes (a bit about a DJ who drops an entire Woody Allen album into a set filled with artists that have allegedly committed sexual assault) do land a little better than others (a similar bit in which Wardell warns his younger self not to go to a party at Bryan Singer’s house, in vain); other jokes that riff on “wokeness” and straight men engaging in gay sex come across as dated and carrying the potential to needlessly offend.

Perhaps the most inspired bit of joke-writing comes during “Crowd Work,” in which Wardell imagines what it would be like to do a stand-up set with an ex-girlfriend as the only member in the audience—but it doesn’t take long for the gag to go into the deep end, mutating into a homoerotic gag in which Wardell falls in love with his ex-girlfriend’s father. Without ruining the “twist,” it only gets more convoluted from there, as the album sputters to a surrealist and near-nonsensical conclusion. The pretense of performing for an audience almost disappears completely, and that’s kind of the point. If a Tweet goes un-fav’d in the woods, there’s no one around to read it, and An ASMR Album is similarly unconcerned with who’s listening. The antagonism is admirable, even if it’s not much fun to experience.

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