You can learn a lot about a civilization by looking at its prisons. Likewise, you can learn a lot about a band by looking at its throwaway albums. As Wishingbone was to Subtle’s debut, Yell and Ice is a sister album to 2006’s For Hero: For Fool. It’s a disc full of remixes, reimaginings and the continuation of fictional character Hour Hero Yes’ loose narrative. Like its predecessor, Yell and Ice is a star-studded affair. But given its source, it’s surprisingly fully realized.
Though they have yet to crack popular consciousness on par with, say, the first Gorillaz record, Subtle is an indie super-group bent on defying hip-hop and electronic expectations. Permanently featuring the thoughtful works of Adam “Doseone” Drucker, Jeffrey “Jel” Logan, and Dax Pierson’s classically minded cohorts, the band has mixed worlds with a fine selection of buzz notables. Wishingbone procured the talents of Console, Planet Mu’s Hrvåtski, and the legendary Mike Patton while reinterpreting tracks from Beck and Ms. John Soda. Yell and Ice is more focused, with no outside covers, and features the work of Chris Adams (Hood), Dan Boekner (Wolf Parade), Markus Archer (The Notwist), Tunde Adebimpe (TV On The Radio), Why?, and two members of Fog.
What’s more, this collaborative compilation sees Dax Pierson regaining his creative foothold in the collective. After a nasty tour-van crash while supporting A New White in 2005, Pierson was left paralyzed from the chest down. As such, his contributions to For Hero: For Fool the next year were considerably cut back, limited only to vocals, beatboxing, and harmonica. Yell and Ice claims to have Pierson back on keyboards, Autoharp, harmonica and vocals. This is exciting. It was Pierson who had met Doseone and Jel, both working at Amoeba and already collaborating as Themselves, and got them to introduce woodwind and strings into their sound. Whatever Subtle has achieved as a group is in large part thanks to Pierson’s foresight. He still doesn’t tour, but at least Subtle is and sounds like they’re back at full strength in the studio, and then some.
Dan Boekner’s presence is felt in “Middleclass Haunt.” A companion track to “Middleclass Stomp” and Middleclasskill” from For Hero. Dan’s vision sculpts a more traditional rock progression, with a focus on acoustic guitar and a melancholic but clearly melodic chorus. Tunde Adebimpe’s contribution to “Deathful” reconstitutes the straight hip-hop of “Midas Gutz” into a static laden, post-rock chugger with a hint of bassoon and a lyrical cautionary tale of the realities of thug-boasting. Yes, believe it or not, arming yourself to kill is not a real-life recipe for glamour.
The Chris Adams-assisted “Sinking Pinks” is the most striking collaboration here. Beatboxing matches up with a warbly beat, and flows in and out of effect wormholes in a surreal yet smooth fashion. That, paired with a tasteful piano melody and a Mr. Oizo-style warped bassline that digitally wiggles with a varying mood, deftly carries the track to the midway point. Then the vocals finally kick in. It’s about the most moving track I’ve heard Adams associated with, while still tossing enough kick and calamity out there to keep the dancefloor satisfied.
All the guest appearances work seamlessly in an album context, as the revisitation of Subtle themes reconstitutes any concurrent sounds unrecognizably. All told, I find the pacing and variety of Yell and Ice preferable over its original release. The rock aspects are a little deeper, the electronics are that much more twisted, the hip-hop beats are just as punchy and the lyrics much more memorable. “Not” shalt not be easily forgotten, as Doseone spits his version of the umpteen commandments. Some of them should probably be amended to the good book, like “thou shalt not write Joanna Newsom love letters” and “thou shalt not read Vice Magazine”. This album is just more interesting all around, which is quite a feat. Unlike Wishingbone, Yell and Ice is a real album, not just an amusing bonus disc. Subtle has a new full-length coming out in early 2008 to complete the Hour Hero Yes trilogy, but I’m going to go ahead and say here’s looking forward to the next remix record.
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