It is the year 2051. It turns out that some of our needs haven’t changed: sodas, smokes, chips, and drugs. But the drugs have different names. Fancy any Tuner? Gunk? Maybe even some hard-to-find Panic? (Be careful with that one.) Well, Felix and Louie have you covered. It’s all available from a ramshackle wooden stand—located at a nondescript corner in Los Angeles—where the pair toil away. While the drugs fell into the guys’ laps, they may just provide enough of a monetary windfall for Louie to finally get a ticket to visit Mars. Oh, right—going to Mars will be a thing by 2051. Given how bleak things will be on Earth by then, who wouldn’t want to get away?
That’s the scenario envisioned in the short film Head High, from the absurdly creative minds behind Paris Texas—the experimental hip-hop duo of the pseudonymous Louie Pastel and Felix. Along with the film, the group has recently turned out a string of music videos: “PANIC!!!,” “BULLET MAN,” “Everybody’s Safe Until…” and the new “DnD,” which paint a backdrop of the dystopian world in which Mars takes place.
All of it has led up to last week’s release of the main event: one of the most anticipated records of the year. MID AIR, the first full-length album from Paris Texas, delivers 16 tracks that thrillingly throw genre caution to the wind, as astute rap bars meet electropunk, drum 'n' bass, hard rock riffage, buzzing synths, funky breaks, alt-rock melodics and more. Temperamentally, there’s a ton of angst, but also irony, laughs, sentiment, reflections on struggles and loss, wry takes on labels and guns, and occasionally, pure elation. It’s sharp, pummeling, irresistible, and insistent, even in its sweetest spots,. MID AIR is surely—we say this not even seven months into 2023—one of the year’s greatest albums.
None of this is a surprise to those who discovered Paris Texas two and a half years ago. They opened 2021 with a genre-blurring single, “HEAVY METAL,” followed by two breathtaking EPs, BOY ANONYMOUS and Red Hand Akimbo. Each drew critical and fan praise that recalled the late-aughts discovery of fellow rowdy Californians Odd Future and Death Grips.
BOY ANONYMOUS was accompanied by its own short film, which cast the fellas as workaday employees of Ditch Maid, a “#1 Body Recovery Service.” Read: They make fresh corpses disappear. At the time, as press interest in the multimedia creatives ramped up, Felix and Louie were quick to remind interviewers that they were only getting started—and they weren’t kidding.
“It’s just more concise,” Louie tells me of MID AIR, when I catch up with the Paris Texas over Zoom. “I love this project. But there was so much going on, just in life, that we had to sort through. So it is a collection of really good songs again—it’s definitely more our first album. More concise ideas that we didn’t really do with the first one. With BOY ANONYMOUS, we like to put bits and pieces of our personalities in there, but with this one we got more into storytelling—and got in more tidbits about ourselves. So that’s something we figured out on this record: how to say more than we’ve ever done before.”
MID AIR’s most hard-hitting electro bangers—including “tenTHIRTYseven,” “BULLET MAN,” and “Earth-2” have more in common with The Prodigy than traditional hip-hop. Really, they may fuel the simplistic question that’s dogged the duo since their breakout: Are they rap? Are they rock? Or are they—wait for it—“rap-rock”? I'm old enough to remember when that hyphenate was used to refer to a certain era of rather numbskulled music (with which the guys having nothing in common).
But rap and rock have dovetailed in different iterations for decades, but rarely this inventively. Paris Texas are more than aware of the conversation. On 2021’s “Dr. Aco’s Miracle Bullets,” Louie concedes, “Can’t tell if it’s rap, can’t tell if it’s rock, I walk in between.” On “PANIC!!!” he offers, “I came into this bitch with no genre… why the fuck would I stop… fuck you think tryna put me in a box?”
“We just lean into what we know,” says Louie, who handles “85 percent” of Paris Texas’ production—and who, as a teenager, was a fan of post-hardcore. “Sometimes, after the first record, we didn’t know whether to continue down this path of like, rock shit. And then, our friend Kenny Beats [a co-producer on Red Hand Akimbo], was like, ‘Yo, don’t run from the thing that got you on.’ So we just decided to embrace it more. And it got funner. But it takes time. I mean, we were obviously not the biggest or the first persons to do this hip-hop-rock thing, at all. But it just felt like a lot of pressure, where everybody was suddenly just putting us in that same category. Then we just embraced it."
Louie laughs at the rap-rock question in his lyrics, but when it comes to reducing his multi-pronged artistic project to a simple genre binary, he goes off: “It’s just so crazy, with what Paris Texas really is? Visuals, movies, craziest videos, short stories, crazy album art, songs that don’t make any sense—that have 30 bridges and breaks like that? So anybody being like, 'rap-rock!' It’s like: you’re a fucking idiot. That’s all you see it as? I mean, to think that that is the focus point of Paris Texas? If that’s your only focus point of who we are, well you’re dumb as shit. I’ll die on that hill.”
Much of the default impulse in young hip-hop today is for turnt-up, rage music—you can hardly find an artist on a Rolling Loud bill that doesn’t want to open this shit up and form a mosh pit. Rock and rap have merged more than any time in history—and Louie gets it. “Life’s really hard right now,” he explains. “During quarantine, Black Mirror came out and said, ‘We’re not making another season in these times,’ just because everybody was so scared. In the real world right now, everybody is just really scared. We learn something new and tragic every day. And I don’t know if a rapper, or any musician’s take is any different from anybody else’s—and I don’t know if anybody wants to be reminded of that right now. So I don’t blame anybody for, like, duh. Nobody’s relaxed right now.”
While conversing, Felix and Louie are both highly chatty, bursting with ideas and cultural reference points. Felix is the slightly more affable of the two, while Louie is more sharp-elbowed—a bit more wild-eyed and skeptical. He's perfectly friendly, but you get the slight feeling if you stepped in, he might take no prisoners. Their decade-long history is clear: they have that thing where they can finish each others' thoughts.
While conversing, Felix and Louie are both highly chatty, bursting with ideas and cultural reference points. Louie is more sharp-elbowed, a little more wild-eyed, and sceptical, whereas Felix is a little friendlier. Although he is really pleasant, you have the uneasy impression that if you approached him, he might take no prisoners. Their ten-year history makes it evident that they have the ability to complete one other's sentences.
MID AIR, the guys concede, is really an album of two halves, and the first half could not be more tightly wound with existential dread. Felix’s hook line from “Everybody’s Safe Until…” is an infectious singalong, rife with paranoia, as he riffs: “There’s people trying to kill me.” “tenTHIRTYseven” asks, “Who wanna die?” Meanwhile, “Closed Caption” delves into domestic strife. “PANIC!!!” is manic, and the lyrics of “BULLET MAN” blithely reference guns—“Shoot out the whip/shoot at the kids/shoot at the bitch”—while its video may be the most harrowing of the year. An AR-armed, old-white NRA type fires on a young Black man—and from the bullet’s POV, we see it relentlessly chase the kid all over town before eventually, inevitably, finding its mark. The victim collapses at a fast-food restaurant in front of Felix and Louie, who are getting takeout. “Ah, hell nah!” they exclaim, before moving along. It's a darkly funny ending to a grim, surreal-but-too-real video, and pure Paris Texas.
“I don’t know, anytime I see anything really fucked up, I laugh,” Louie admits. “It’s like, laughing is kind of a defense mechanism—at something you don’t understand. A lot of times, when you see something really crazy, you’re gonna laugh. Or after the fact. You know how much crazy shit I’ve seen in my life? You know how much crazy stuff I’ve been at? I remember being 14, seeing a beheading video, and showing my friends. We’d laugh 'cause it was fucking horrifying! All you can do is laugh it off. So we just always try and find some sense of humor or sense of fun.' Cause there’s nothing you can do about it. With gun violence, racism—I have nothing profound to say.”
There’s humor in Paris Texas’ inspired lyrics, with song titles like “Lana Del Rey,” which is a canny rejoinder to the pop star’s own song, “Paris, Texas.” Sometimes the fun comes in videos via famous friends. Wild man JPEGMAFIA makes an appearance in “PANIC!!!” and comedian Noel Miller features in a mind-blowing chapter of Head High. In the film series’ introduction—a faux ad for a “Ticket to Mars"—indie rock A-lister Mac DeMarco cameos as a pitch man hawking the chance to escape an Earth riddled with “racism, poverty, homophobia, arachnophobia.” Felix says of DeMarco, “That’s a funny guy. Mac was born in the wrong era!” But he says I need to ask Mac himself about how the link-up happened. So I did. Over email, DeMarco told me it was through their mutual friend Kenny Beats that he first met Paris Texas a couple of years ago. “Really love their tunes, and Louie and Felix are wonderful people as well,” he added. “They are truly gentlemen.”
Those gentlemen have traveled quite the journey to get to the place they are now. Seated next to Louie on our Zoom is Jesus, a friend who—in a story that’s now Paris Texas legend—first introduced Louie and Felix a decade ago, when they were in community college. The pair vibed immediately, having skills that complemented each other. Five long years passed: stops and starts, honing an idea into a sound and a reality, soul-crushing day jobs and sometimes no jobs. In 2018, Paris Texas dr0pped its first EP, the self-released I’ll get my revenge in hell. It was three more years, plus the hiring of a manager, and a distribution deal with Sony subsidiary The Orchard that things truly broke open. The guys are loathe to share too much about their personal lives, but their existence has clearly changed. “Life changed dramatically,” says Felix. “I don’t want to speak on all of it, but life changed immediately. We’re two totally different people, just two years later.”
At a time when 17-year-olds regularly blow up in hip-hop on the strength of one or two singles, it’s increasingly rare—and inspiring—to see that an artist can grind out a slow and steady path to success in their mid-to-late 20s, simply on the strength of jaw-dropping, undeniable music. “As for it being ten years, and it being hard—I feel like that process made it healthier. It got to the point where we grew up,” Louie concludes. “A lot of times when you ask somebody that’s younger, or someone that blows up in a short amount of time? Things can get very weird and blurry. By the time we blew up, we were already mature—and understood each other. It was still frustrating. Still hard. But I can’t imagine all this happening eight years ago. I mean, with the same problems I have now? I wouldn’t have been able to understand it.”
The two appear to have acquired a healthy skepticism of the business, the media, and even fan acclaim as a result of their experience. Paris Texas still don’t have a label deal and seem in no hurry to get one, preferring to see who really is committed to them. Attention can be intense and seductive, but also fleeting, and they take nothing for granted. On MID AIR’s penultimate track—part of the project’s more peaceful second half—they profess appreciation. “Ain’t No High,” an alt-rock ballad with Smashing Pumpkins/Nirvana-styled guitar, admits,“My brother has a bigger house than I do, a bigger yard and a swimming pool,” but concludes, “Ain’t no high like this one, ain’t no high like this.”
But even today, as ready as they are for the album to drop—and with their first proper U.S. tour set for this fall—Felix echoes something that he said two years ago, when Paris Texas found fame: we’ll see. “Obviously, any type of compliment is received and appreciated,” he explains. “But we see also how it is when people try to make something way more extreme than what it is. And then, it’s really not that. When everything really comes is with the test of time. People are fickle. And it’s like—let us earn that praise. And when you stand the test of time, people might say, ‘Oh that was a fun moment.’ But it can be more than a moment. Sometimes.”