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  The No Music  
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In the past i have commented on how i just don't get hip-hop. Then a friend on a mailing list pointed out that i don't get mainstream pop or rock either, so why should i be expected to get mainstream hip-hop? It had honestly never occurred to me before that moment that there was an underground in hip-hop. I dunno why, since it seems so logical now. Anyway, i then pestered my email colleague for some recommendations in the world of underground hip-hop.

One name that was mentioned is Anticon, which is apparently some sort of collective. Attentive readers will note that Anticon is the organization that lent rappers to Hood's Cold House LP, specifically they added some rap to the wonderful Branches Bare, as well as a few other tunes. Based on this connection i have since tracked down several Anticon CD's, and this is the first that i will review here.

Themselves is a collaboration between the rapper Dose (who called himself "Dose One" when he rapped for Hood) and a producer/DJ named Jel. Both of them seem to really know what they are doing.

Dose has an interesting voice. I would not call it a good voice in the same sense that lead Lornan Mark Rolfe has a good voice, nor is he a skilled singer in the same way that Liz Fraser is. Instead, Dose uses his voice in a way that seems new to me: he drones. There are several times when his voice is a low rumble, barrelling its way through words. It is almost rhythmic, especially in the song Live Trap where his voice is the rhythm backing up the layers of strange synth tones that Jel has sequenced. Very cool.

But when Dose really gets going, it seems as if he is half singing. For example, the last track on the disc, Hat In The Wind, features Dose rapping "I am a drug addict" over and over as a sort of chant. In fact, his voice is layered, so that there are several Dose's gregorianically chanting this one phrase over and over. It is a beautiful effect, a feat of vocal layering worthy of the master of that art, Robin Guthrie himself. It's also insanely catchy, so much so that, if i am not playing attention, i find myself singing along. Which is not something you want to do at the office, given the lyrics.

Dose actually fully sings on the song Paging Dr. Moon or Gun, which is a pretty cool song. A simple piano riff plays over and over, while a big sampled drum beat thuds away, and Dose sings overtop. I like this song, and for some reason it reminds me of something from the 80's that i can't quite put my finger on. I hate it when i can't think what a song compares to... Oh well.

So, my verdict on Dose's rapping is that it is very interesting. I like it, actually. But the real attraction of this album is the DJ work of Jel.

Jel's music is well-layered, with frantic beats and awesome keyboard/synth samples. He also seems to have played with the recording quality on the vocals -- sometimes a making them a little flat and distorted, sometimes leaving them completely clear and clean. It's an IDM effect, really. In fact, Jel's work treds the boundary between hip-hop and IDM. For example, the very end of the album is a little coda that fades back in after Hat In The Wind fades out, and this coda would be equally at home on a Plaid album.

The first track on the album, Home:Work is Jel's showcase. It is a catchy instrumental that reminds me of the faster-paced work of DJ Shadow. It is very well done.

On the whole i really like this disc, even the more conventional rap numbers, like Dark Sky Demo and Mouthful. It's not quite like anything else i have listened to. In fact, i started to write this review with a certain happiness that i could point to a hip-hop album that i actually "got".

Alas, i apparently still have a ways to go in my appreciation of hip-hop. After i have composed my review, i look at other reviews in order to see if anyone else named something that was on the tip of my tounge (like the 80's act that Paging Dr. Moon or Gun reminds me of -- but alas no one else got it either.) And there i learned that this album was somewhat panned in the rap world. Reviews i read said that it was "flat" and "unimaginative". Well, maybe that is from the rapper perspective. From my indie-rock/shoegazer perspective this is pretty durn innovative.

So i am recommending it to people who have yet to locate any approachable hip-hop. This is a good "way in" to the genre. However, if you are already a real rap fan then i guess this isn't for you.

Related Links:

Cold House, by Hood, which features Dose adding some rap flavor here and there.


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