For better or for worse, Alias is perhaps the most conventional of the Anticon production crew. Eschewing the static and off-kilter tendencies of Odd Nosdam, the futuristic touches of Reanimator, and the chunky downtempo of Jel, Alias prefers his beats smooth and silky, with a vaguely clicky quality to them. Almost all of his production work has this shiny layer to it, complete with lusciously thick synth work and a beat designed to find a groove, to the point that it actually mars much of his solo work as there’s just not a lot of variety to be found in his beats.
Collected Remixes, on the other hand, has found a way around that particular problem. Namely, bring in some vocalists to provide the variety, let Alias do his thing behind them, and voila! Fantastic album!
Well, not quite fantastic. There is a solid 15-minute stretch right in the middle of Collected Remixes in which Alias is more or less putting on a production show all by himself using his associates in Christ., Lali Puna, and Lunz as source material. This is exactly the sort of stretch that goes ahead and proves my original point: Alias left to his own devices gets old fast. Sure, any one of these three tracks put in the middle of a mixtape would be a welcome diversion into vaguely hip-hoppy easy listening fodder, but put them back to back and you’ve got sleepytime. In fact, given the relatively underwhelming effort from Boy in Static and the fact that Lucky Pierre, who follows, provides for another entirely instrumental remix, and one could say that the entire “middle half” of the album is subpar and fairly forgettable.
It’s a good thing that what we’ll remember are the bookends.
The three tracks that open Collected Remixes are utterly sublime. The album begins with The One AM Radio’s “What You Gave Away”, a beautiful song with lovely chord changes that Alias manages to give a delicate touch that suits the song perfectly. Predictably, 13 and God still sounds like 13 and God when Alias gets his hands on them, but then… Look, John Vanderslice’s “Exodus Damage” from last year’s Pixel Revolt album was an amazing song before Alias got his hands on it. I can accept that. Still, the Alias touch gives it an epic, slow-burning quality that the original didn’t quite have, just absolutely nailing the mood of the song, punctuating the brilliant chorus with silence followed by a flurry of quickly-paced skitters and synth chords. If Anticon ever needed convincing that Alias was worth keeping around on their roster, “Exodus Damage” could be the beginning and the end of the argument. It’s just that good.
The end of the album, for its part, doesn’t quite match up to the near-perfect beginning, but it has its own set of merits, what with Sixtoo busting out with some of the only true hip-hop to appear on the album on the angry, volatile “Karmic Retribution / Funny Sticks”, and Alias’ longtime collaborator Tarsier showing up for one more go-‘round on “9:24 Cigarette” from the Brookland/Oaklyn LP. In the context of that album, “9:24 Cigarette” sounded like little more than yet another Portishead rip; on this album, it ends things gracefully, a satisfying letdown after the venom of Sixtoo.
I’m still not convinced that Alias is worth the respect that the Anticon crew gives him in the form of production duties on their more high-profile albums. Even so, what Collected Remixes finds is that sometimes, that touch that he brings is the perfect tool to apply to someone else’s idea, as he is near flawless in one-time shots at backing up someone else’s vocals. This is what makes Collected Remixes worth hearing. As long as you’re not looking for innovation at every turn, Alias can punctuate a beautiful moment like few others.
And really, if I’m John Vanderslice, I’m seriously considering hiring him to do all of my drum programming from now on.