n his work as an all-purpose producer for the Anticon roster of avant rappers, Alias -- along with fellow beat-droppers like Boom Bip and Jel -- has arguably done as much as the label’s more visible vocal talent, like Doseone and Sole, to define the inventive Anticon sound. His rough, fuzzy backgrounds and crisp, hard-edged beats have a ragged beauty that shines through all the tape static and lo-fi murk of his recordings. On Muted, the producer’s third solo disc, and second of instrumental hip-hop, the lack of vocals forces the listener to pay careful attention to the nuances of these junkyard soundscapes.
It’s telling, however, that the most memorable song on the album is one of two vocal songs. “Unseen Sights” features a typically distant Germanic vocal from Markus Acher of the Notwist, and Alias matches the cold but touching sweep of Acher’s voice with a glitchy, subtly orchestrated backing that recalls the Notwist’s own Neon Golden. It’s a bit out-of-character for Alias, and its drastic dynamic shifts and moody vocals make it a clear highlight. The other vocal track on the album, the Pedestrian showcase “The Physical Voice,” is more typical Anticon fare, though its stop-start production and whiny rapping fall far short of the best tracks from Sole and Doseone.
The rest of the album is entirely instrumental, and though each track has plenty to offer, there’s hardly anything here that leaves a lasting impact once the record is over. Tracks like “Lost Friend Advice” (and even more so the bonus track hidden after nine minutes of silence) recall the soul/hip-hop hybrid of the hidden track on Themselves’ The No Music, all twisted funk and icy beauty. The opener, “Beginagain,” is more frenetic, pairing hard and fast beats with a simple, repetitive melody buried underneath a thick crust of fuzz.
This formula holds for much of the album, with just enough variety and unexpected production twists to keep things from becoming completely somnambulistic. Nevertheless, these tracks drift by in a near-dream state, individual differences melting away in the blur of drums and hiss and melancholy melody. “Full Circle Blues,” with its nursery rhyme melody, shuffling beat, and unintelligible vocal samples, provides a mid-album standout, while the otherwise boring “One Obvious Rule” stands out for a different reason: the heavy-handed political rhetoric in its spoken word samples.
Muted is an undeniably lovely record, and it even has a kind of understated grandeur that perfectly complements its title. But that title also means that nothing on the album, with the exception of Acher’s appearance, really leaves its mark beyond the immediate impact of the listening experience. This is the perfect record for a lazy autumn day, watching the leaves fall. Put it on until the last orange leaf has tumbled from its branch into a frozen gutter, then turn it off and let it fade into memory, where its haunting melodies will perhaps linger a while longer in the subconscious, then drift away as ghosts.
Reviewed by: Ed Howard
Reviewed on: 2003-10-31