[17 October 2006]
One gets a sense of just how unconventional Abstract Data Ark, Polyphonic’s latest hat thrown into the hip-hop/IDM ring, is when you take a look at his full chosen moniker: “Polyphonic the Verbose”. How often do we see anyone even remotely associated with hip-hop call himself “verbose” (capital ‘v’ or not) and say nary a single word? Heck, it’s tough to get producers to shut up these days—how many times do we have to hear Kanye or Jermaine Dupri or Diddy or (especially, of late) Timbaland toss ad-libs in their productions? Yes, we know it’s you, thank you, now get back behind the boards where you belong.
No, this Verbose one would prefer to let his guests do the speaking, at least as far as Abstract Data Ark is concerned, allowing himself to concentrate on putting together beats that manage to span plenty of genres while retaining the common thread of a pointed broken-ness. The first lady of Rhymesayers, Ms. Psalm One, puts down a fabulous bit of high-speed spit with the warped soul sample-laden “Out to Lunch”, eventually culminating in a discombobulating, syncopated hook. As she starts the second verse, a free-association stanza based around triplets and plenty of humor, it becomes clear that even where MCs are involved, this is an album that has as much in common with, say, cLOUDDEAD as it does Prefuse 73. As if to emphasize the point, Polyphonic follows “Out to Lunch” with a little minute-long ditty called “Sun and Moon”, which deals in reverb, delay, and trumpets, to the point where it could be confused with ambient scarymonsters Dead Voices on Air.
Of course, to be able to make such a comparison either adds to the excitement or the frustration, depending on what kind of hip-hop fan you might be.
The album never gets all that much more accessible than “Out to Lunch”, though there are a couple of excursions into old-school sonics, things that fans of De La and Tribe will be able to appreciate—“Land Rovers in the Video” finds MartyMar asking the question: “What’s this thing called hip-hop become?” It’s a rhetorical question here, one that simultaneously indicts the modern MTV rapper and points to a bright future in indie artists such as this. It’s easy to appreciate such a subtle display of hubris, one that makes you think about its self-aggrandizement, and its presence only adds to the album. Of course, the fact that you can nod your head to its deceptively simple rhyme scheme and funky-ass beat doesn’t hurt.
Whenever a producer is the main name behind an album, one can always expect some serious theatrics on the tracks that don’t involve the MCs—these are the tracks where the producer can shine, the ones where he can educate, where he can show that the skill turning the knobs is just as important as the skill behind the mic. That skill, happily, is something that Polyphonic has plenty of, whether it be through crafting some delightfully retro reggae beats in “Rumours of a War”, or going in 20 different directions at once with the industrial tapestry that is “Orange Alert Mental Pattern”—a track that actually manages, without words, to evoke the simultaneous absurdity and tension of a color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System.
So what’s the problem? Well, while Abstract Data Ark is all interesting and innovative-sounding, Polyphonic is obviously talented, and his guests do just fine, it all sounds very clinical. There’s no true emotion to be derived from any of it, it’s all very calculated, and cold, and space-age, with all of the positive and negative implications that could imply. Not only that, but it often goes into weird-for-the-sake-of-weird territory, which is not always bad, but only succeeds when it’s truly committed to—which it never is here. Still, Polyphonic has crafted an album that’s certainly worth at least a listen, and is certainly solid enough to make this listener take notice the next time he ends up behind the boards on an album. Polyphonic himself might not say much, but his music does plenty of talking for him.