Nice article up on SF Bay Guardian charting the history of legendary hip-hop label Anticon. Celebrating its 10th anniversary the article plots the evolution of the label and features input from artists like Sole, DoseOne, Alias and Why?
Seven months ago the FREEhoudini tape heralded the return of this now legendary partnership between two of Anticon's biggest players. Now after all this time Dose One and Jel return with their third proper album under Themselves. Much water has passed under the bridge since the last record. We've had bands like cLOUDDEAD further the abstract tendencies of Dose and we've seen Subtle rise from yet another side project for these two to become a real powerhouse band, not to mention their work with The Notwist in 13 & God. The result is CrownsDown a comeback record of epic proportions that incorporates all the skills picked up by these other formations and one that sounds a million miles from 2002's mesmerizing The No Music.
The recent Eskimo Snow record from Yoni Wolf has seen Why? take a giant leap away from any kind of hip-hop associations and in contrast CrownsDown is Dose and Jel's total emersion in the genre. This is a hip-hop record through and through. It's ten tracks serve as the Commandments of rap and encompass the archetypal themes that unite bands such as Gang Star, Public Enemy and Ultramagnetic MC's. You've got the 'guess who's back' jam of opener Back II Burn, the 'diss rap' of Oversleeping and the 'don't copy my style' cut of The Mark, and this is all in the first three songs. Nothing that is spat from the dexterous lips of Dose comes without its fair share of irony and while the tongue seems firmly in cheek during some of these moments of rap stereotype it sure is bizarre to witness. If irony goes on too long at what point does it start becoming genuine intention? The 'don't fuck with my DJ' jam seems to embody this totally. Skinning The Drum sees Jel flexing his DJ muscle by cutting up the Apache and Cold Sweat breaks back and forth as Dose references Ice Cube with the line "hey Jel, make it ruff."
Over many years of following every twist and turn from these two I have often wondered what would happen if they gave in to hip-hop, well this is my answer and while I find it quite strange it is undoubtedly one of the most impressive rap albums I've heard in a while. Dose's flow has evolved throughout his work with Subtle to a booming growl. His high pitched rapid-fire has morphed into something way more threatening and muscular. The speed is increased and the rhymes are lightning. Jel's beats come with equal ferocity and velocity. The No Music and their work with Deep Puddle Dynamics was all about intricate layering of effects and vocals, haze and fuzz would accompany any lyric to create a murky sonic composition out of which would emerge dazzling moments of crisp punctuation. This has a totally different agenda. The layers are still there but the fuzz has subsided leaving more fully formed raps and deep, pounding beats punched directly to your chest.
This isn't the case for every song and these battle raps mostly sum up the first half with the second retreating into the more delicate territory we are used to. Daxstrong is the 'spread-love' song which pays tribute to the Subtle founder Dax Pierson who was paralyzed in a tour accident in 2005. Dax also sings an auto-tune verse on the following You Ain't It which acts as direct contrast to Dose's jagged speed delivery and Jel's apocalyptic drum beats.
CrownsDown is both a toppling of false hip-hop idols that may have risen in their absence and also a humble tip of the crown to acts that have paved the way for both these two artists. Having pushed the envelope to such an extent on your first few releases the only way to go is this I guess. The 'don't copy my style' sentiment that runs through a few of these tracks seems slightly unnecessary as since they first emerged there has been little hip-hop around that could possibly be accused of being capable of this. I find that the more Subtle emerge from the underground, the less they hold my interest and with the first few listens of CrownsDown I feared the same may be said for this long awaited comeback. There are moments here that stand out as being uncharacteristically obvious but as a whole it is a dense piece of work that sets the heart racing with very characteristic excitement. In its obviousness it asks more questions than it answers, and we'd expect nothing less from a Themselves album. CrownsDown is a long-awaited comeback and one that drops with curious yet impressive magnitude.Read more 3.5 star reviews
Without sounding like the indie-rock equivalent of Adrian Mole, Yoni Wolf's writing is certainly getting darker. The self loathing, acute honesty and constant suicide mentions that made up Alopecia were buoyed by a dry wit that made you think that he was well aware of his failings but had them under control. Eskimo Snow was written at the same time as Alopecia and the difference here is the almost complete absence of the wit which works to expose the self-loathing in all its miserable glory. But it's glorious nonetheless and further goes to highlight Yoni Wolf as one of the best writers of our time.
We were warned in recent interviews by Wolf that Eskimo Snow would be the least hip-hop of all work as Why?. I found Alopecia tough to appreciate in its early days for this very reason and while these new songs make the transformation from odd-ball hip-hop to odd-ball indie-pop totally complete the jump doesn't seem as cavernous due to its predecessor and so my appreciation of this is more instant. I don't know of an artist to have made such a successful jump and while Eskimo Snow seems like the end of something that Alopecia started it signals a bright future for this gloomy chap. It's now possible to use the word 'gloomy' with the comfort and satisfaction you might when talking about a Morrissey record. This is a 'bare-bones' album, the most stark and revealing of all their work. The confessions of insecurity and discomfort aren't masked in clever rhetoric but laid out in sometimes crude honesty. It's like he's done with talking around the subject of his own patheticness and this album is the coming-to-a-head of many factors. After this things may be different, but for now this shit just has to be said.
This pinnacle aspect of the record can be seen in all its glory on Into The Shadows Of My Embrace. Opening with the confession, "Now the world is my good confessional monkey / But it'll take a bus load of high-school soccer girls to wash those hospitals off me," he then changes up the pedestrian tempo and launches into a relentless, pounding list of confessions. As he gabbles this list his honesty is barely containable and strains to keep up with the musical tempo that dictates. After all this comes the shrieked line; "Saying all this in public should make me feel funny, but you gotta yell something you should never tell nobody." It marks the loudest his voice has ever got and heralds in a new dawn of heavy, swirling guitars.
The lyrical honesty is not the only factor that makes Eskimo Snow so stark. The song structure is so different from Alopecia that it's hard to imagine them being conceived in the same sessions. Many of these songs make no apologies for going nowhere. They either build to nothing or don't build at all. They stare you square in the face declaring, what you see is what you get. Opener These Hands should be a closing lament rather than the chosen one to welcome us all to this record. It shuffles by almost unnoticed in its misery than fades from view leaving awkward silence. And the innuendo filled Even The Good Wood Gone spends its entirety promising a crescendo, but gives up. But in anyone else's hands this would smack as a bunch of semi-thought out sketches that shouldn't have seen the light of day. Under these guys it becomes a startlingly refreshing and intricately perceived album. In its barren focus they have coaxed some of the most beautiful songs in their repertoire. One Rose and Berkley By Horseback twinkle with fragility with their shimmering piano and Wolf's clear-as-day nasal delivery.
This is a worthy answer to the staggering Alopecia and even though it may appear to be the first full step along the indie-pop road, its unbridled creativity poses more questions about the future direction of this band than answers. It may not have the shining peaks of Alopecia, it is more of a blanket soaking, but its depth is unfathomable at this early stage. The Anticon hip-hop spirit lives strong in this record so I leave you with Wolf's mission statement on the penultimate gem, This Blackest Purse. "I want to speak at an intimate decibel, with the precision of an infinite decimal / To listen up and send back a true echo, of something forever felt but never heard / I want that sharpened steel of truth in every word." Not that he's ever done anything else, if this is the only hint at where we may find this band next, I for one am all ears.Read more 4 star reviews
Anticon's newest signing is a textural piece of left-field hip hop that dredges the depths of the human condition but manages to shimmer with excitement in the subtlest of ways. Serngeti & Polyphonic are a duo from Illinois and this is their sophomore record but debut for Anticon. Separately they couldn't have more contrasting upbringing and it's these differences that form the basis of their sound. Serengeti, born David Cohn, grew up in Chicago with his mother - a secretary, atheist and devout Communist on the then all-black South Side and with his father - a stressed, middle class business owner in the then all-white suburbs. So while he was busy handing out copies of Socialist Worker at May Day rallies Polyphonic (Will Freyman) was taking piano lessons at his dad's behest. So what we have as a result of all this is a duo who construct fiercely intelligent hip hop that is acutely tuned to this experience of life, but is surrounded and supported by an incredibly sophisticated musical structure.
Serengeti's delivery is monotone and reluctant, it plods and mumbles as if oblivious of the textures that encircle it. At first his connection with his sonic surroundings seems awkward and jarring. After all, he raps about characters that are constantly struggling to belong or connect with their surroundings so this lack of cohesion with the beats is quite apt. But as the record progresses this disjointedness never changes but seems to become the very glue that binds these songs. Polyphonic conjures some of the most complex soundscapes I've heard in this genre for some time. They are incredibly fragile and once analysed seem to exist on virtually nothing at all. They shimmer like TV static and glisten like a rain soaked city at 2am. They are polished with electronic precision and it's this that makes them bounce off the murky, buried vocals that occupy their cold environments.
Despite the fragility of these beats this music is dense to say the least. It's cold and empty and yet so overflowing at the same time. Like fine rain that goes virtually unnoticed but eventually soaks you to the skin, Cohn's deadpan observations tumble from the crackling atmospherics like dirty water from an overflowing street sewer. His depictions of place and the people that inhabit it are razor sharp and paint a lonely picture of modern-day struggle and confusion. Like Antipop Consortium or Fat Jon's work with Pole, the fusion of hip hop with electronic beats can often evoke bleak and sterile visions of our present day or future world. But with minimal orchestration being employed on songs like My Negativity Polyphonic shows that it's not simply bleeps and clicks here. As eery violin weaves its way throughout these fragile beats or My Patriotism's jaunty spanish guitar dances freely a massive wall of the most complex textural arrangement has risen up infront of you without you even noticing and to focus on it can be quite mind blowing.
The guest spots are used wisely with two Anticon heavyweights adding valuable verses. Buck 65 creeps in half way through La La Lala bringing a sense of nostalgia with his gruff delivery but sits perfectly with Serengeti's smooth rhyming. With the Bike For Three project such a success, Buck seems quite at home against Polyphonic's textures. Just as suited to this arena is Adam Drucker aka Dose One. As Dose's vocals emerge from the static on Steroids his usual delivery is so well disguised it's easy to miss the fact that it's him. Like a cloaked figure lurking in the shadows his voice morphs to the music like an ominous film-noir presence.
This record is tough going. It has a pretty stark outlook on the world we all inhabit but it sure is worth a listen. It takes all that hip hop was supposed to do and brings it fiercely into the present day. It also does exactly what this label was always supposed to do but in recent times has fallen somewhat short of the mark. Terradactyl is as forward thinking as any of the early Anticon releases and just drips quality from every expertly produced second.Read more 3.5 star reviews
More Heart Than Brains
More Heart Than Brains is a creation that has been steadily evolving for many years and across vast distances and comes to our ears now as a fully formed and glistening piece of work. Bike For Three! is the collaborative project of Belgian based electronic producer Joelle Phuong Minh Le (Greetings From Tuscan) and Canadian rapper Buck 65. It all began when Phuong Minh Le found Buck through his Myspace page about two years ago and then sent him a piece of music to write lyrics to. As he explained in a recent interview I did with him (coming soon), he was so taken with the quality of this first and fully formed piece of music she's given him saying "It was was extremely flattering to me that somebody would give me their absolute best best and would push themselves beyond anything they had done before." This first song inspired a blissfully productive series of creative exchanges with Phuong Minh Le delivering shimmering electronic landscapes, all fully formed and unpredictable in their direction, for Buck to weave his intricate lyrical musings. The result is a highly personal and tender opus and probably some of the best things this MC has delivered.
The two artists conducted this creative exchange for many years but have never met. This way of making a record could produce disjointed music with both artists working separately but actually More Heart Than Brains is the opposite. The obvious mutual respect that Terfry talks about is clearly what has driven these songs and what makes both elements merge perfectly. It has also driven each artist to rise to eachothers high standards. Phuong Minh Le's compositions are simply stunning. With an exquisite attention to detail she crafts elaborate vistas built around downtempo beats surrounded in bristling textures. They rarely end up where they start and even though she first approached Terfry the task of matching these compositions with lyrics must have been a daunting one indeed. But it's one that Terfry rises to with equal confidence.
Being presented with such pure and beautiful music has brought out some of the most personal and revealing lyrics he's ever penned. Phuong Minh Le's music stands in front of him like a mirror from which intimate reflections of love and life emanate with arresting honesty. Can Feel Love (Anymore) picks through the wreckage of a broken relationship and all the time Buck's chorus lyrics are shadowed by a subtle and effect laden female voice that only confounds the loneliness. This loneliness is seen again on Nightdriving where Buck's often seen persona as a loner in a strange land takes place in a city at night. The music here gleams like never before reflecting the light that bounces over nighttime urban surfaces. His flow is also severely challenged by this music. This is seen to dazzling effect on one of the albums many highlights There Is Only One Of Us. This song starts with a female intake of breath, as if about to speak. It continues on a steady beat with the lyrics ambling along but then rises on a wash of synths to finally drop into a drum and bass formation with little warning. Buck's tempo excellerates on cue and the whole thing just launches with thrilling pace.
Since 2005's Secret House Against The World it's been pretty tricky to predict what Buck 65's going to come out with next. The following Situation was a highly conceptual album that seemed to rely more heavily on hip hop beats, but it put him in a place that was hard to come back from artistically. This collaboration has proved a wise move for him, taking him out of his one-man-band comfort zone into unfamiliar and yet rich territory. As each artist raises their game, reacting spontaneously and honestly to the creativity of the other, More Heart Than Brains sounds almost like a live feed in an artistic bounce off. It's the sound of two individuals trading intimate thoughts over time and distance and you really can't help feeling honored to be allowed to listen in.Read more 4 star reviews
Monday 8th of June sees the release of veteran Anticon producer Odd Nosdam's new record T.I.M.E Soundtrack. T.I.M.E stands for This Is My Element - the title of the new Element Skateboards film - and Odd Nosdam composed each song to fit the skater it accompanies.
It's a rare thing indeed to have a whole skate film composed by one artist and Nosdam does a fine job. Featuring some heavyweights like Mike Vallely and Bam Margera, This Is My Element is beautifully shot and the soundtrack really raises some of the scenes to epic status. These two clips are from the young Nyjah Huston (above) and the legendary Chad Muska (below).
Chimpomatic review of T.I.M.E Soundtrack online here.
The veteran Anticon producer follows up 2007's Full length Level Live Wires with a collection of hip hop pieces soundtracking the Element Skateboards' film This Is My Element. Each song is tailored to fit the Element skater it accompanies and so is a slightly fractured piece of work but one that sees this beatsmith on strangely upbeat territory crafting some of the dopest beats we've every seen from him.
Famous for his work on cLOUDDEAD, Odd Nosdam is known for his droney-wash soundscapes that fit better into a sound-art category rather than hip hop. Level Live Wires did much to alter this image of him and with this as its followup we see an already awe inspiring producer evolving into something quite special.
The trademark touches are firmly in place here. His work with cLOUDDEAD was meticulously crafted and every sound was enshrouded in fuzz, haze and feedback. this is an altogether cleaner affair but the beats, whether crunching and ominous like on T.I.M.E In or delicate and floating as in Ethereal Slap, rarely travel alone and are muffled and textured with such care and attention that makes them endlessly listenable. Whereas the emphasis in the past has been on oppressive textures songs like We Bad Apples with its guitar-driven melody and the booming Trunk Bomb transform this record into an absolute stomper.
Not surprisingly these songs work best when experienced in the context in which they were created. Seeing the pop/grind/land sequence in Nyjah Huston's opening section of the Elements film happen to the deep beats of the blissful Top Rank is endlessly satisfying and when Jeremy Wray lands a ginormous ollie over some stairs right on the beak of We Bad Apples it is truly awesome. This hazy hip hop obviously doesn't suit Bam Margera's style of anarchy so an appropriately brutal piece of punk has to be drafted in for his section. Elements boast a pretty hefty line up and with people like Mike Vallely and Chad Muska in this film it can't really fail but I've never seen a skate film's soundtrack entirely composed by one producer and it really unites the film into a concise whole rather than the sum of its parts. T.I.M.E is an impressive work both on film and on record and marks the point where this producer turns a corner.Read more 3.5 star reviews
Ahead of this summer's comeback album CrownsDown Themselves have dropped this 39 minute mixtape and it's free to download. If you cast your mind back to when Real Madrid ruled the football world with their dream team line up, this mixtape would be the hip hop equivalent. Featuring contributions from a host of Anticon dudes like Yoni Wolf, Sole and Pedestrian plus hip hop's alternative elite like Buck 65, Aesop Rock, Slug and Busdriver. The whole thing is also tied up in a nice little bow by Odd Nosdam who mixes it all.
But despite all the se names it's the two main players that drive this and make it a non stop bullet train of beats and rhymes. Jel's beats are heavy and come at you like a techno storm. They swirl into each other morphing and changing organically according to the MC that has stepped up. Dose One steals the show as expected with his lightning tongue flickering with lyrical brilliance. The way they have both progressed their other band Subtle is a major influence here as multi layered compositions are constructed. Programmed beats mix with regular old school as Dose's vocals shape shift from being mumbled backing texture to his twisted pixie rhymes that dart out of the texture as gleaming bullets. The mixtape format gives it a nice old school feel and each MC comes into play with great fluidity. Buck 65 gets a gloriously booming beat to play with, Aesop's deep delivery sits perfectly with Dose's high pitched voice and as Nosdam brings in Yoni Wolf the cLOUDDEAD circle becomes complete for the first time in too long and it sure feels good.
It's been ten years since this group first emerged and six since their last record and this generous 39 minutes of perfect prose is a fine return to form. Featuring the 7 original members of the Anticon collective it really sums up this labels history and their current standing as one of hip hop's finest labels. The fact that this is free makes it irrisistable, like I needed any other reason to hear these boys play again.
You can download the whole thing here (for the next
90 85 days only!) or pay out for a limited CD version that features an extra 16 minutes of audio.
Anticon heavyweights Jel and Doseone, aka Themselves, are planning a return after a six year gap with a new album CrownsDown set to drop this August. But to bridge the gap they're putting out a free online mixtape sometime this month. The FREEHoudini tape will feature guest spots from the likes of Aesop Rock, Why? Buck 65, Slug and Sole and will be the reunion of sorts for all three members of cLOUDDEAD. They leaked this 15 minute taster to Pitchfork last week and if this doesn't wet your backpack appetite you're probably dead.
In yet another supergroup collaboration, Mike Patton seems to be teaming up with TV On The Radio's Tunde Adebimpe, and Subtle's Doseone - for an as-yet-untitled project. The Onion's AV Club (don't worry it's a serious article) have the details.
Returning from the recent staff snowboard trip I stopped off at San Francisco's Amoeba Records and picked up my copy of Why?'s Alopecia. It seemed a fitting place to purchase this Bay Area artist and so with that and a few other missing pieces to the Anticon puzzle I embarked on the 10 hour return journey to London. Maybe it was the severe lack of sleep, or the numerous injuries that plagued my aged body - but on returning home I was all set to hit the Chimp office with a rather disappointing review of this record. After the few disjointed play-throughs on the plane, this follow up to 2005's delightful Elephant Eyelash lacked it's predecessors energy and edge. It seemed to be a pale and overproduced shadow of the work achieved by Yoni Wolf in the past.
So having started this relationship on the sunny Californian shores it took a prolonged 2 hour traffic jam on a rainy Thursday night on the A3 for the love affair to begin. Anticipating a half-hour journey, this was the only CD on my person and after about 4 back-to-back plays this record stared me square in the face with astonishing honesty and made me ashamed of the thoughts I had formed in my pitiful mind. Yoni Wolf's transformation from lo-fi, underground hip-hop to melodic indie-pop seemed to be near completion on the recent Hollows EP and I guess my initial disappointment was wrapped up in that fact. I have always been in favor of this transformation as throughout Wolf's work with either cLOUDDEAD or Reaching Quiet his gift for a melody was always there but under used and during the first half of Alopecia it is heavily exploited.
Alopecia is made up of two halves and most of the deal makers occur in the latter part of the record. From the outset it's obvious that the production has never been slicker. Wolf has always been the figurehead of a lo-fi, homemade sound but things have changed. The Vowels Pt. 2 kicks off proceedings with short, plodding steps and it's clear this hike in production quality is being put to good use. This shiny, crystal clear melody loosely glosses over the dark themes that run through this record. Sex and death is pretty much it, making Alopecia far more twisted than its predecessor. Lines like "faking suicide for applause in the food court of malls" are the norm here not to mention, "sucking dick for drink tickets and the free bar of my cousins Bar Mitzvah." Death usually relates to Yoni's own demise and is always delivered in rosy, tongue-in-cheek candy wrappers. Fatalist Palmistry begins "I sleep on my back cos it's good for the spine and coffin rehearsal.
Wolf's vocal range is what makes his work so listenable. He can go from the low, shuffling rap of Good Friday to the nasal melody of These New Presidents and his writing is so surreal, bustling with imagery and so meticulously pronounced that your ear is forced to attempt to decipher each verse but rarely succeeds . On the unnerving Simeon's Dilemma Wolf assumes the role of a stalker and describes his obsession with a certain female by way of high pitched singing tones which makes the content even more cringeworhty.
As heard on the recent EP, The Hollows carries the weight here with a rarely heard increase in volume by means of grinding guitars and crescendo vocals. The Fall Of Mr. Fifths marks the turning point of the record. It's way more in line with Wolf's earlier Anticon work with rapid delivered spoken verse and surrounded by textural atmosphere. A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under continues the spoken verse with rain-drop-like keyboards trickling down around it, it's a simple and all too short piece of work but emerges as one of the finest moments on the record. The other comes in the form of By Torpedo Or Crohn's. This was the other stand out track on the EP with a remix by Dntel, but this version is slower and allows much needed room to truly appreciate Wolf's art.
It's an art that is second to none and the distance this band have come is astonishing. Though darker in tone Alopecia is a definite progression from the airy Elephant Eyelash. Its another step to the honing of their direction and it's quite rare to see a band with direction these days. Wolf crams so many ideas into every breath of this record that it will take a lifetime to uncover it all. The shame I feel at my early judgement now serves as a reminder of the depth and complexity of this album, to not like it is to not get it i'm afraid.Read more 4 star reviews
The Hollows EP
After the triumph that was 2005's Elephant Eyelash, Yoni Wolf emerges with a sneaky EP to wet our appetites ahead of next years Alopecia. The Hollows EP is basically a a collection of remixes and covers by the likes of Boards Of Canada, Xiu Xiu, Dntel, Half Handed Cloud and members of Yo La Tengo.
The title track is the only new song on this record and it seems to be finishing off Why?'s gradual transformation from his hip hop associations to the indie rock sound this band have been gravitating towards for some time. Why?'s hip hop links have always been tenuous due to Wolf's sing song rap style and his work with the Anticon collective has been the perfect environment to expand on this. The Hollows is an awesome taster for things to come with Wolf's vocals emerging front and centre and the rock influence moving into full effect.
Strangely enough there's two remixes here of forthcoming tracks of the Alopecia album. Boards Of Canada's remix of Good Friday is a stripped down, head nodding reconstruction that levels out the background to give Wolf's voice the intimate closeness it deserves while Dntel's re-imagining of By Torpedo Or Crohn's provides Wolf's more hip hop delivery with a soft techno lift off. Elephant Eyelash's Yoyo Bye Bye is a popular choice with versions by Xiu Xiu and Dump (James McNew of Yo La Tengo) and the whole thing ends with Islands' Nick T's cover of Wolf's previous Anticon project Reaching Quiet.
The upshot of this EP is that Why?'s 'anything goes' policy has obviously inspired this fine collection of artists to stretch their wings and together they've created material that is as good if not better than any of their own work. Having heard the remixes I'm pretty confident that next March will see the release of one of the albums of the year.Read more 4 star reviews
Sole and the Skyrider Band
Like a man coming up for air Sole's 4th album sees him spout an overwhelming torrent of words that have been kept quiet for so long. After his recent Mansbestfriend project where he managed to hold his tongue in favour of delicately crafted electronica the Anticon founder has gone and got himself a band and with their help he delivers an uncompromising piece of work and as a follow up to Poly.Sci.187 - released earlier this year - it proves there really is nothing this artist can't do.
This album is similar in intensity to records like 2003's Selling Live Water but The Skyrider Band provide valuable warmth with the live instrumentation. The beats are still fierce but don't crowd the ever flowing lyrical machine-gun like delivery. Sole's work is never less than impressive but can sometimes be way to suffocating as the layers of sound are piled to a dangerous height. This is addressed to a certain extent here and the result is a more spacious and textural record. But I wouldn't want to mislead you by implying that this is in any way an easy ride. Sole's rhymes take deep breaths and bore their way into your skull with a relentless perseverance, he has zero sense of humor whether he spits over slow, plodding beats like One Egg Short Of The Omelette or frantic, stuttering glitch as on The Bones Of My Pets he means to burrow deep and he seems to do it all with a single breath.
By enlisting the help of The Skyrider Band, Sole is taking his sound to new and richer pastures. This is an intelligent piece of work that has thought of every detail. His relentless tone can sometimes prove hard going but with the addition of such varied music behind him there is much meat on the bones of this newly resurrected Sole.
Worry not, dear reader, this is not a record by some cheeky mix master who constructs tracks using annoyingly frequent samples of the word 'mayonnaise.' No, despite the daft name, Chris Greer has formed an intelligent, beat heavy collection of progressive instrumental hip hop. Eight years on from his debut 55 Stories, Still Alive shows a more grown up Mayo. While displaying a firm grasp of the scratch n' sample technique his new work takes a refreshingly expansive look at the instrumental scene. All too often this scene pumps out albums that sound more like collections of DJ tools with endless beat variations going nowhere, but Mayo has embraced the art of composition with this record and the songs spread out wonderfully forming the narrative of a coherent album.Read more 3 star reviews
Jackals And Vipers In Envy Of Man
Robert Squire aka Sixtoo is a man of many talents indeed and trying to pin him down to any one area is proving rather tough. He emerged from the mid 90's underground hip hop scene as an MC to be reckoned with. Sharing the stage with such visionaries as Buck 65 and Sage Francis he soon became synonymous with the Anticon/Mush collective. His 2002 release Duration saw Squire put down the mic and concentrate on the production side of Sixtoo. This has been going from strength to strength culminating in his 2003 Ninja Tune debut Chewing On Glass & Other Miracle Cures, a compelling album dripping with atmosphere. This years Jackals And Vipers builds on this formula but is an altogether darker affair.
Constructed using meticulously stitched together recordings of various live sets then taken into the studio and rendered down to their basic elements this record works as a wonderfully rich film-noir soundtrack played out in 13 movements. Each track is named Jackals & Vipers In Envy Of Man Parts 1-13 and they are designed to be listened to as a continuous whole.
Things start off pretty dark with a brief intro leading us into the drum heavy Part 2. Creeping along to pounding beats and sinister synths this awesome opener sets the tone of paranoia and pretty much keeps it up until the final movement. Though very much rooted in hip hop Squires touch is often light and it's in these moments that we see him as a master of his craft. Each sound, whether booming or whispering, is bathed in detail. Each beat comes with added effect and the samples are expertly disguised creating an impressive air of mystery that is essential to the whole. This multi layering and constant reworking can produce insanely claustrophobic compositions but can also lean back allowing strings or a delicate piano chord to evoke grand, spatial landscapes.
As the final movement draws to a close you are left with as many questions as answers but all good art should leave the viewer or listener in this way. Jackals And Vipers opens its arms and welcomes you into its hidden world of paranoia and intrigue but once you leave you'll be none the wiser as to how it was all done. It gives of itself only as much as it needs to and the rest is up to you but seeing as over generosity is often the downfall of instrumental albums such as this Sixtoo manages once again to avoid that pitfall and produce a caged piece of hip hop brilliance.
I must admit, I've had this record for some time now but I guess I've been putting off writing any kind of review for it so I could savour that honeymoon period you get with an album before you commit your opinion to words. It's a blissfully pure period where you can react to something as special as this without having to say why. And I don't intend to say too much about why this record is so special so if you haven't heard it you're gonna have to just take my word for it.
Mansbestfriend is an alias of Anticon co-founder Sole (Tim Holland) and since 2004's The New Human Is Illegal, his first release under this name, it was clear that he had a different agenda here. The alias aims to serve the production side of Sole's talents and although the debut still contained the hard-hitting rap style that dazzled fans under his own name it was released on the largely electronic Morr Music label. So with poly.sci.187 you get the feeling that this is Sole getting about as close as he can get to his ideal. It's virtually all instrumental and it's a production master-class of the type that I never would have thought possible by such a pioneer of underground hip hop.
I say it's instrumental, but that's not entirely true. It's definitely the sound of a rapper who's got tired of his own voice so instead he has filled the songs with a whole variety of vocal samples that all serve to express the heavy political viewpoint of this man. The album opens with a quote from the famous anarchist Emma Goldman and from there we get all manner of sound-bites from a young boy pleading for peace in his homeland of Lebanon to a curious vintage recording of Wheel Of Fortune broadcasting live from the New Orleans Superdome. All of this is smothered in the richest production since Boards Of Canada. Each beat is gently coaxed out of organic textures and surrounded by all sorts of fuzz and static. It has a melancholic nostalgia that is both unsettling and strangely comforting like looking at old film footage of your grandparents as children. It's this duality that makes it so special. It can wrap you in its wooly static warmth but while you're in there you get a pretty disturbing image of the world past and present.
Book Of Bad Breaks
The third album sees this San Francisco trio up their game from shoegazing atmospherics to damn near post-rock genius. This shift in approach has led them to the hallowed grounds of the Anticon arena in which they are free to roam anywhere they please. And roam they do, but the success of this album lies both in the distance from which this band strays from the post-rock centre and the trail they leave behind allowing a route home at all times. This route may not be easy to find but it's always there and knowing this enables the listener to trust these guys to take them where they will.
Created in a similar spirit to Anticon favorites Why? or Fog, Thee More Shallows tread a fine line between coherency and shambles threatening to fall apart at any moment. Conventional song structure is turned on its arse with many songs masquerading as lo-fi, throwaway ditties then exploding into grand moments of majesty like on the epic Night At The Night School. Starting out all soft and warm the drums soon pick up to a running pace and reach heights you never thought possible at the beginning. Or sometimes doing the opposite as in The Dutch Fist. Here Dee Kesler's vocals are fed through a synthesizer and slowly build to glorious melodies then collapse in a dirty heap of drums and fuzz.
Songs are divided up and flow together masterfully with great use of instrumental interludes. Int.1 is a blissful string section that leads you into false security before it slides into a pummeling onslaught of hard-as-hell guitars. This leads into the awesome Proud Turkeys that continues this punk barrage until Int.2 which reunites us with the strings and tricks us into thinking it's all one song.
Towards the end of the record we get The White Mask, a song which really does mirror this album as a whole. It plods along for the first 4 minutes then dwindles into virtually nothing. Then just as it seems to be hanging on by a thread it pulls it all back together and launches itself in a cloud of fuzz and drums skyward for a final crashing finale.
This is an expertly crafted album that often tries to trick us into thinking it's a lo-fi waste of time. But on reaching the end you aren't sure what you've just been listening to but you'd quite like to start again and find out. It's a brave step forward for this band and now sees them in the kind of musical area where they have earned the right to do anything they please. Highly recommended.
Is this the sound of an underground label on the turn? I doubt it judging by the quality Anticon releases that flank this one but you really have to wonder what place this collection of easy listening remixes has either on this label or on the discography of an artist with the pedigree of Alias. Together with people like Sole and Dose One, Brendon Whitney was among the first wave of artists to launch the Anticon assault and with his work on the Deep Puddle Dynamics project and his debut The Other Side Of The Looking Glass Alias established himself as main player in this pioneering collective.
Which makes this release all the more curious. It's not bad at all, in fact many of these tracks in their own right are pretty solid but put them in a context such as this and boredom soon sets in. This is a pretty varied cast featuring the likes of Lunz, Sixtoo and Lali Puna and yet it all sounds like a substandard Alias record. All distinctive characteristics of the original songs seem to have been ironed out in favor of the presiding bass heavy, synth beat that Alias is all about at the moment.
Some standout moments are Why?'s inclusion on the 13 & God remix, lush atmospherics on Lucky Pierre's Crush and the song of the album has to go to Sixtoo's Karmic Retribution/Funny Sticks with it's booming beat and apocalyptic grandiosity. But these are the songs I would have expected to shine as the originals are so good and a part from that it's all pretty forgettable. I normally recoil from remix albums for the opposite reason, that they are too fragmented, so I guess that's one distinctive feature about this record.
From Anticon's mail out:
Subtle recently shared Thanksgiving short of all their tour earnings, Dose's laptop, and other personal belongings thanks to a thief in Spain. They are in serious need of help, as now without this money, they are in debt. How can you help? For a measly $20 donation to the cause Doseone will create a personalized portrait of you (or whoever you would like).
The Lost Take
The road that Dosh has chosen or is destined to travel is well trodden and as a result can often be perilous. Instrumental hip hop sounds like a good idea but can often fall into the chill out trap and forever condemned to an eternity of middle class diner parties. Fortunately Martin Dosh skillfully avoids these pitfalls and his third full length for Anticon "The Lost Take" is easily his best yet - and actually has no right to be classed as hip hop.
Having started off playing drums in the avant-guard DIY outfit Fog, Dosh released his debut self titled album in 2003 followed by 2004's Pure Trash which featured assistance from Anticon heavy weights Doseone, Jel and Odd Nosdam. With The Lost Take the collaborations are just as frequent but of a different sort. Dosh has cleverly enlisted the help of a plethora of musicians from Fog's Jeremy Ylvisaker, Erik Appelwick from Tapes 'n Tapes and the wonderful violin of Andrew Bird. This is the key to the success of this record. Proficient on most instruments himself, Dosh has created a record that though predominantly drum based is a homage to the art of live orchestration. "Um, Circles And Squares" is the first instance of this dazzling love for music. Here, Bird's strings form a beautiful cushion for Dosh's rolling Rhodes sequences and drum beats. This prepares us for the album highlight of "A Ghosts Business". This could be a scene from a Disney cartoon about the nighttime goings on in a music shop. After the owner leaves the store, the instruments come alive and jam erratically to their hearts content expressing the unbridled freedom that an instrument would if it was locked up in a shop all it's life. As conductor, Dosh makes us think he's lost control of his orchestra - but expertly brings them into line with Prefuse 73 style cutting and pasting.
This track is very important to the album as a whole. Not only does it let us know what this man is capable of, but gives us a valuable insight into the intentions of The Lost Take. Every song after it seems to work better with this knowledge. By enlisting the help of such talents, Dosh creates a rich pallet from which to work his magic. Appelwick's crunching guitar chords give strength to the piano and drums of "MPLS Rock And Roll", making it a triumphant anthem - while his subtle finger picking weaves softly amongst the textural percussion contributing to the delicate warmth of "O Mexico".
I imagine each of the twelve tracks on The Lost Take as an intrepid group of explorers in the old Tarzan movies bravely making their way through the jungle. Comprised predominantly of toffee-nosed British aristocrats and their native bag carriers, they negotiate the perilous mountain path known as "Chill-Out Pass". To lose your footing here would mean plummeting into the raging crocodile infested waters of Hoxton-quiff-sporting-Foxton's employees, hungry to get their soft hands on the next soundtrack to their upcoming Thai fusion themed dinner party. Sadly, not everyone here makes it to safety. "Everybody Cheer Up Song" and the closing sax horror of "The Lost Take" only lose their footing for a second, but that's all it takes on this journey to fall to the depths of mediocrity. But everyone else bravely push on to the other side. Once there, they find the going slightly easier, as a path of sorts has already been forged by people like Four Tet and Prefuse 73, but armed with the brave pioneering Anticon spirit the remaining members of The Lost Take form their own roads through this wilderness to discover new and rich pastures. One would hope that after showing such courage Dosh won't rest on these green and plentiful lands but will strive on to higher ground.
For Hero: For Fool
I haven't heard a hip hop album this original since the last Subtle album. Formed in 2001 by Anticon's Jel (Jeffrey Logan) and Doseone (Adam Drucker) Subtle took their time getting started. After a few singles and 2 EP's, Summer and Autumn, they finally got around to their debut full length in 2004. A New White was a multi layered musical masterpiece that vaguely clung to the fringes of hip hop fusing programmed and live beats, with electronics, strings and Dose's expertly delivered vocals. Their stage show was equally magnificent with a white top hat and tails clad Dose springing around the band like a court jester possessed. While on tour in 2005 their bus skidded off the road paralyzing keyboardist Dax Pierson from the chest down. It seems a small miracle this album was ever made due to the seriousness of Pierson's injuries not to mention the fact that much of the harmonica and backing vocals come from Dax himself.
But thankfully it was made - as it's yet another forward thinking piece of Anticon splendor. Since the demise of cLOUDDEAD and Themselves, and with Deep Puddle Dynamics being less than productive Subtle has become the main vehicle for Doseone to flex his outstanding lyrical muscle and with Jel on beats, Marty Dowers on woodwind, Jordan Dalrymple on guitar, Alex Kort on cello and the afore mentioned Pierson, Subtle's sound is textured to say the least. The key to their success is their grasp of contrast, light and dark, blur and focus, chiaroscuro if you will. Their multi layering of samples, instruments and sometimes indecipherable spoken and sung vocals create a pea soup like fog of sound that is then punctuated by its opposite. Sharp beats and Doseone's acutely pronounced prose spring from this fog at a thrilling pace but never become formulaic, quite the opposite. Much of Subtle's music is confusing and can often make the listener feel as if he is involved in a private conversation of which he knows nothing about, the music never goes where you think it will and although the theme of human pointlessness and the general decay of society is graspable the delivery is often in the form of surreal word play that moves on quicker than you can keep up.
As a whole For Hero: For Fool adopts the same contrasting form that each song does. A Tale Of Apes I & II usher in the fog with the use of post rock mush, Boards Of Canada style nostalgia-synth and Kraftwerk electro pop while Middleclass Stomp swamps you with it's glorious power-cord pop. The three main points of sharp focus are the hip hop extravaganza of Midas Gutz, the unashamedly danceable The Mercury Gaze and the jaw dropping Return Of The Gaze. Here Jel lays down the most complex beat of clicks, scratches and stabs with Doseone's rapping coming in softly at a pace that defies comprehension, he never misses a beat, he doesn't even breathe. His nasal delivery seems to take on the same properties as the electronic, stop-start beat and an accompaniment of gentle acoustic guitar and brushed cymbals culminating in wailing guitar and crashing drums makes this the finest moment on the album. Vocal dexterity is Dose's forte and when put with Jel's masterful grasp of the textured beat the result is an aural delight.
Hip Hop was born from the deconstruction and reassembling of other genres and for that reason remains one of the most versatile music forms. It's creative perimeters are huge. There is nothing it can't borrow, steal or sample. This scope is expressed perfectly in the music of Subtle who seem to see no limits to how far they can stretch this genre. In the hazy, surreal fog of For Hero: For Fool boundaries and classifications are simply not visible.
When you read any review or press release about this album you will get the same line time after time. "This is Mike Patton's long awaited album heralding a return to his mainstream form." Well that may be so, but I am glad I wasn't holding my breath for the past 5 years. You know when you rediscover an album you used to like from your reckless heavy metal days, then while listening to it the nostalgia wears off and you realise why you stopped liking that stuff in the first place - you grew up. Peeping Tom is a similar listening experience. It sounds immature and dated, despite the guest list - which includes such visionaries as Anticon's Dose One and Odd Nosdam, plus hip hop legends Kool Keith and Dan The Automator.
I was a big fan of Faith No More and although my favourite album was "Introduce Yourself," with Chuck Moseley on vocals before Patton took over I am still so disappointed with this offering. If I had to pick some highlights then I would say 'Mojo' is one of the stronger songs although I am so bored of people like Rahzel the human beatbox, making weird sounds with your mouth, big deal, Jones from Police Academy soon killed off that little party trick. The only reason I would pick out 'Sucker' as another highlight is because it features Starbucks very own yawn-tastic Norah Jones saying Mother Fucker. Not really a good reason to like a song I know - but hey, I like Mr. Patton and am clutching at straws here.
This is underground hip hop at its finest. One of the strongest offerings on the ever expanding and boundary breaking Anticon label, Them is Doseone of cLOUDDEAD fame and the mighty Jel on the beats. This is a faultless combination and one that has been tried and tested many times, the most recent being Subtles awesome album A New White.
Anticon was started by Sole (Tim Holland) and Pedestrian (James Brandon Best) in 1998 and was born out of a love of poetry and the more traditional side of Hip Hop. Since then these lonesome travellers have stopped for any hitchhiking art school dropout or beatnik poet they deemed suitable for the Anticon belief system. Two of the first to join were Jel (Jeffrey Logan) and Dose (Adam Drucker.) Their first collaboration was on the 1998 self titled album Deep Puddle Dynamics. This was basically every one from the early days of this label and this is how they intended to proceed, with every one contributing to eachothers work. And so they did and have fast become one of the most prolific producers of challenging and inspired poetry driven Hip Hop around today.
I can't think of a single release not worth a listen and this semi-self-titled album released from 2000 is one of the strongest. It nods towards the more traditional hip hop more than most of the labels' albums, by this I mean it has beats. But they are intelligent and deep, organic beats that never over do it. Dose's vocals are as always pure, surreal and totally screwed-up genius. In one of the strongest tracks Death O A Thespian, Dose admits, "I dont believe in Zeus but Im scared stiff of clowns," and if you hadnt seen him his voice would conjure up similar disturbing clown related images or even gnarled, jaded pixies that lurk in dark nightmarish places muttering incomprehensible words of wisdom. The clown theme is continued in another fantastic example of this partnership, Another Part Of The Clown.
The final track ends with the words, "You know when energy is flowing, teach yourself to write and let Them buy the album." This seems to be the exact thing this bunch of modern-day visionaries did, and my gratitude pours forth.
In 2001 artsts Doseone, Odd Nosdam and Why? Put out an album that would truly erase any label or genre they and their collective had been previously assigned. cLOUDDEAD's self titled debut is a collection of 10" singles comprised of six different movements each featuring a guest vocalist. This probably sounds pretentious and it so easily could be but the group navigate the rocky ground between up-your-arse, self indulgent, clap-trap and pure genius with expert ease and always remain on the right side. It is impossible to pick out tracks as the whole thing is one big murky bog of samples, atmospheric beats and textures that see Dose and Why? emerge every now and then with vocals that defy imagination and conjure up worlds only visited in dreams or nightmares.
It is so hard to describe this piece of work. There are no comparisons that can be made. It is one of the purest things I have ever heard. More than any other album from the Anticon collective this epitomises the ethos of this group, and that is one of limitless expression and the constant commitment to genre defying art. They have never topped this album for me, but have come exhilaratingly close many times. Genius.
I am all about Baltimore at the moment. Granted I am three seasons late, but The Wire is rocking my world and so is this album. Baltimores Spank Rock are the new signing to Big Dada and they have gone and made the most exciting hip hop I have heard since the last Anticon offering. Unlike the Anticon posse it doesnt take itself seriously at all. It sounds like a cross between Tag Teams Woop there it is Antipop Consortium and a fair dose of 2 Live Crew. Its low down and its dirty.
MC Spank Rocks chief concerns here range from the contents of a womans biker shorts to his less than admirable intentions as to what to do with said contents once he has acquired them. Song titles like 'Back Yard Betty','Coke & Wet' and 'Screwville, USA' tell the whole story yet despite this it is a very intelligent piece of work with amazing production. It is very tongue-in-cheek (which cheek? I hear you ask, and you would be right to) but not in a gimmicky Darkness way, more in a Licence to Ill kind of way.
To put it bluntly its just really good fun and the beats alone will get you stripper dancing in no time. So lets all repeat after me Tap dat ass, cmon Tap dat ass.
Its great to see someone who is constantly helping out everyone else finally do something for themselves. And that is exactly what we have here. Having created the beats for some of the most memorable Anticon records including Subtle and Themselves, Jel now gives us his first solo LP. And its good.
I have read comparisons to DJ Shadow and even Massive Attack, but that is to misunderstand this album. It has a totally different agenda. At heart it is a straight up hip hop album - the beats are rich, heavy and hold your interest long after many other instrumentalists have lost it. You really come to understand just how Anticon can make such beguiling music when all the vocals have gone and the beats stand alone. And stand alone they certainly do, especially on WMD, one of the few vocal numbers. As you can guess, this is an anti-Bush barrage of abuse but the beat is so damn fine that even Dubya himself would find it hard to keep his foot from tappin'.
I wanted to review this album for a few reasons. Firstly because its a great album and secondly because I feel the hallowed halls of Chimp Towers needs to reprezent for the underground hip-hop.
Why?, aka Yoni Wolf is one third of the genius that was cLOUDDEAD and has put his skills to many fine releases from the ever-changing and ever-ground breaking Anticon label. Elephant Eyelash seems to have a coherency and focus that has sometimes been missing from a lot of Wolfs many endeavours. He is a lyricist like no other who delivers playful yet dark sing/speak vocals with an awe inspiring attention to every syllable. It is a strangely uplifting experience which leaves you wondering why you were just joyously singing along to lines like Unfold an origami death mask/ And cut my DNA with rubber traits/ Pull apart the double helix like a wishbone/ Always be working on a suicide note.
Anything by this artist is challenging but so worth your time. This album and countless other on this label offers a rare musical experience, a chance to listen and appreciate music that is indefinable and carries with it no genre baggage. My iTunes says Folk but I say Why? Stand out tracks include Sanddollars, Rubber Traits, Fall Saddles and Gemini (Birthday Song)