’m not a big fan of the Anticon collective. Although I admire and support their professed goal to push the boundaries of hip hop, their execution frequently leaves something to be desired. It’s too self-conscious, which wouldn’t be a problem if the nerdy whiteboy posturing were outweighed by the artistic output. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. The music rarely lives up to its self-imposed “boundary-pushing” billing; often, the music sounds almost constrained, as if the Anticonites are adamantly forcing their vision into a hip hop template, even when it doesn’t work.
Anticon members Dose One, Why?, and Odd Nosdam were able to escape this problem with cLOUDDEAD: they let their ideas roam over long tracks, without worrying about fitting everything into a hip-hop template. The result was a hazy trip through the tumultuous inner world of three young men who had to take a sabbatical from the wrenching emotions of their lives. With fuzzy synths, clunky drum machines, and a weird chantlike free-associative rapping style, the three touched upon dropping out of art school, being evicted from their apartment, the suicide of a friend, and living at home with their parents. It’s a stunning, one-of-a-kind album, one with an obvious hip hop influence, but with music not easily classified as anything but experimental.
Reaching Quiet, made up of Why? and Odd Nosdam, charts similar territory as cLOUDDEAD. It’s natural; both projects were recorded during the same period, when (as the liner notes to both albums state) they dropped out of school and moved in with their parents in Cincinnati. However, Reaching Quiet falls far short of its predecessor.
Perhaps it’s the absence of Dose One. His distinct voice is missed for one, but he obviously brings something else to the table that appeals to me (the only other Mush release I enjoy is his collaboration with Boom-Bip, Circle. Maybe it’s a sense of somber seriousness that reigns in the more juvenile excursions of the other two prevalent on In the Shadow of Our Living Rooms. Parodies of radio show melodrama, awful doo-wop appropriation, goofy commercial sampling – this kind of material may work fine as inside jokes between the two, but it has no business being released to the general public (of course, that’s practically the ethos behind “bedroom hip hop”). It’s a damn shame too, because despite the more self-indulgent portions of the album, there are several moments that shine. “She Ain’t Gonna Call You Back (Part 1)” and “Me and the Peacoat” display the duo’s knack for Beach-Boys-inflected melodies and harmonies, with a particularly affecting drum crescendo in the latter. “Out of Live Wires and Twistys” re-explores the melancholy ambience of cLOUDDEAD.
These moments are few and far between however. There’s too much going on here – 30 short tracks, with little continuity in style other than that faithful lo-fi drum machine and Why?’s and Odd Nosdam’s characteristic voices. And many of the tracks are just plain annoying. “The Vowels” is perhaps the most egregious example, an examination of carousels inexplicably interspersed with bursts of off-key chanting of, you guessed it, vowels. And the lyrics, while continuing in the obscure, free-associative style of cLOUDDEAD, offer far fewer discoveries than those of its predecessor. It’s like watching two nerdy kids on the bus riffing endlessly on their own inside jokes: it might be fun if you’re bored, but pretty soon you’d rather just look out the window.
The failure of In the Shadow of Our Living Rooms is particularly disappointing in light of the obvious talent, intelligence, and vision of its contributors. But Reaching Quiet provides only a few tasty bits in a sea of half-baked or overcooked ideas. Maybe only Dose One’s influence can allow the group to maintain a delicate balance between annoying self-indulgence and revelatory self-exploration.
Reviewed by: Gavin Mueller
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01