[20 June 2005]
For serious, this album was slept on. Subtle is right. Doseone and pals really didn’t get the props they deserved for this bit of hybrid genius released last October, this mutant progeny fathered by Chicago’s post-rock bachelor and mothered by lady rap. A New White was hampered by the horrible tour accident of Dax Pierson (he’s recuperating still; send flowers via Lex Records or the Anticon homebase), and the basically unclassifiable sonic template that Subtle uses to make tracks. Yes, it’s rock music. Rock music fans should like it, so long as their notions of good rap-rock combos does not include much in the way of Limp Bizkit or the like. Rap fans will find it utterly confusing, maybe refreshing. More likely is that rap fans will not find this record. Anticon fans will, needless to say, already own and cherish this. Subtle provides you with some of Doseone’s best lyrics and art since his work with Boom Bip, accompanied by some of the best compositions anyone has created from the Anticon unit all told.
There’s a track like “When the Long Vein of the Law”, which hits its drums with Wu-Tang clatter, and Doseone rips like a stone down a staircase, in his endless nasal delivery of a verbiage unlike any other vocalist has ever dared use, and you know you’re in the presence of true freakish originality. You can’t like this music without liking the far-out reaches; not the underground, but the place where space dust and your own heartbeat are the only things you can see in an ocean of black. Subtle is a visual band, but these aren’t songs as soundtrack pieces, they are songs that make films. Each track thumbs together its own Stan Brakhage-meets-Hype Williams experiment. Jordan Dalrymple of Call & Response makes his guitar recall the great soaring flange of Dinosaur Jr., and as the lyrics and percussion toss the song repeatedly against the walls, it’s his feedbacking, solvent guitar chords that keeps things rooted in some kind of recognizable structure.
Anticon. The name implies that the collective share an ethic that’s totally hip-hop (it’s kept real), and totally anti-hustler. Anticon, and Subtle, are not prepackaged “urban” music. This is Fugazi rap, closer to grassroots than street level, all ages not “Pass the Courvosier”. Rap music has always been trap music, caught in the war between making money and speaking to the people. Every MC finds his way to a balance of cash and respect at a different place along that continuum between art and product. The lyrics to the Subtle song “Silence” are in ways speaking to this paradox. “These are the days of anyone being blonde”, Doseone raps, “The days of mind convincing and the god/luck medium / A time of gold and uncertainty / Noise and expensive genetic victory / The proper time for bright black clothes and last ditch diets / The information age and its molecular pimping”. This is as close to the bling-bling as Doseone wants to get.
Not including “She”, the album is really flawless in its eccentricities, never making a cogent argument for or against anything, simply forming as exasperatingly peculiar and individual music, bonding prog-rock and drum programming, rapping and noise improv. On “She”, the band makes its one argument—against heavy metal. The Sabbath riffs on that track combined with the bad, bad Coltrane squawking and Doseone’s rattle-prattle make a strong case for these rappers-turned-rockers to turn back pronto. Go back to rap! These redneck hills are not the home of Anticon’s sensitive soldiers. “Paranoid” is every chronic’s anthem, yes, but now is not the time or place. There is this constantt conflict in Subtle to avoid what’s called “appropriation of voice”, but what in more general terms should simply be thought of as: Don’t bite the other guy. Meaning Adam Drucker can’t be Twista (he can’t even cop Chip Fu!). Doeseone has to find his own way to rock the mic, and Subtle has allowed him to transcend hip-hop’s distinctions and worries and make something personal and sincere that draws from the entire band’s interest in a great variety of music coming out of Chicago. I hope Subtle recover from injury and little notice, and do record again. These are the important sounds, unheard and uncharted, and they await further exploration.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/subtle-newwhite/