ith their second album as cLOUDDEAD, the core Anticon trio of Dose One, Why?, and Odd Nosdam seem to be moving their pseudo-hip-hop into an interesting an somewhat unexpected direction. After the sprawling, incoherent, loose jams of their self-titled debut, and the even less structured ramblings of Dose One on his collaboration with Boom Bip, cLOUDDEAD’s Ten sounds positively lucid. The shambolic grandeur of the group’s first album has been replaced this time around by a greater attention for loose song structures and melodic choruses, though the lush multilayered backdrops remain. On the first album, Dose and Why?’s lyrics seemed to emerge spontaneously from the fabric of the music, their words drifting aimlessly in before fading away into the sonic scenery again; here the songs actually seem built around the vocals, a change that makes Ten far more accessible than its predecessor.
Interestingly, this shift has been accompanied by a parallel shift away from hip-hop. Dose and Why?, never exactly traditional rhymers, here hardly ever sound like they’re rapping at all. Their droning chants and sing-song melodies have a simple, child-like appeal, but the singing is far more indie rock than anything else. Not that this is any better or worse for it; Ten is simply a different direction for this outfit, one that they’ve flirted with all along, but never embraced so wholeheartedly. And by making a record so seemingly devoid of overt hip-hop moves, perhaps discussion of Anticon can finally shed all the annoying twaddle about how they’re not rap: definitively, this is not rap, but it certainly is good, if not quite great.
Within this new framework, Dose and Why? continue to spit the same stream-of-consciousness, image-laden lyrics that have long been their trademark. While low in comprehensibility, the duo’s rhymes sketch out loosely defined scenes, raise issues and encourage thought, and suggest rich worlds lurking in the spaces between these tongue-twisting reams of rolling poetry. The epitome of the album’s lyrics comes with the mid-album trilogy of “Son of a Gun,” “Rifle Eyes,” and “Dead Dogs Two,” which feel somehow interconnected in their common language of militarism, 9/11 allusions, and the ripe imagery of death.
“Son of a Gun” is most notable for its jittery mood -- perfectly captured by the stuttering, fast-paced vocals -- and a veiled threat at George Dubya in the form of slipping his name into a list of assassinated public figures. On “Rifle Eyes,” Why? repeats the couplet “a single long-stemmed rose/resting between two mounted antlers” as a triumphant capstone to a steadily building verse that details various dead, decaying animals lying strewn along the shoulder of some surrealistic highway. The theme of death returns even more affectingly, though less grotesquely, on “Dead Dogs Two,” which poses the poignant situation, “it’s hard to stand the sight of two dogs dead/ under a sky so blue/ you have to stop the blood to your head/ to fit the breath in front of you.”
The rest of the album is far less literal, though the sweeping, melodic music and crunchy drones encourage reading a sort of intellectual emotionalism into even the most seemingly banal phrases that fall from the singers’ mouths -- like Why?’s plaintive murmers of “Elvis, what happened?” that open the record. Many of the lesser tracks are relatively short bursts of noise with a few phrases repeated over and over again; “Rhymer’s Only Room,” though catchy and marked by some nice beat-boxing, is particularly guilty of this.
Despite a string of similarly slight pieces scattered throughout the album, Ten represents an interesting moment for the cLOUDDEAD/Anticon crew. Having allowed hip-hop to fall pretty much entirely by the wayside, the trio has instead embraced the full strength of their abstract poetry and glitchy, junky, rock-informed musical landscapes. As rap, this hardly registers. As political commentary (which this crew seems to stab for throughout), it’s too obtuse to make much impact. But as eclectic, genre-bending music with an ear for interesting sounds and a knack for making ambiguous lyrics memorable, cLOUDDEAD’s second effort is uniquely promising and satisfying.
Reviewed by: Ed Howard
Reviewed on: 2004-03-05