Alias: Resurgam

Jer Fairall

Pleasant and occasionally quite captivating ear candy, but difficult to distinguish from the rest of the electronic crowd.



Label: Anticon
US Release Date: 2008-08-26
UK Release Date: 2008-08-25

In the early part of the decade, Oakland, California-based label/collective Anticon saw between the cracks of popular music to offer what was, at the time, a genuine alternative to the dominant sounds of the era. Running counter to such trends as indie-rock’s resuscitated garage-rock traditionalism, hip-hop’s ever expanding accessibility and electronic music’s newfound commercial viability (if only as aural wallpaper for the advertising world), the Anticon crew sat on the fringes of all three genres, occasionally tagged “ambient hip-hop” or “avanthop” in an appropriately vague attempt to define their thrillingly idiosyncratic sound. But just as Anticon made no explicit claims for mainstream aspiration or accessibility, what the music itself made clear was that the collective’s offbeat niche was never so much a punkish reaction against anything in particular as it was simply a product of the artists’ fiercely creative insularity. By sheer design, they sat comfortably removed from a pop mainstream that was itself, at that time, strictly divided among genre lines.

Once consisting almost entirely of the individual and collaborative projects of its seven founders -- the artists known as Alias, Doseone, Jel, Odd Nosdam, Pedestrian, Sole and Why? -- Anticon has since expanded to include a number of fresh but like-minded acts from outside the original collective, behaving much more like an actual label in recent years than simply a particularly inventive group of friends. Far from increasing their profile to the level of such indie success stories as Saddle Creek or Arts & Crafts, Anticon has remained more or less under the popular radar, the domain of scenesters and indie-rock critics. Outside, though, the musical world was changing.

Just as the Anticon crew were co-operatively working out their genre bending sounds on the early recordings of cLOUDDEAD, Themselves, Deep Puddle Dynamics and Subtle, the pop mainstream started to become similarly unbound at the seams. Where a certain hyper-self-conscious rigidity existed before, musicians and fans alike began acknowledging the sheer diversity of sounds that populated our post-millennial musical landscape. Radiohead made records that utilized at least as much knob-twiddling electronics as they did traditional rock instrumentation, and a new breed of indie bands followed suit. Hit singles by such nominally “urban” artists as OutKast and Kanye West got airplay on “alternative” radio stations alongside the likes of the White Stripes and the Killers. A new breed of hipsters and rock critics alike openly embraced acts as radio-friendly (and decidedly non-rock) as Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkston and Rihanna. The omnipresent Timbaland produced records for artists as popular as Nelly Furtado and 50 Cent and as fashionably cool as Björk and M.I.A. Even in more notably hipper circles, where a new Britney Spears single suddenly had all the credibility of a new Arcade Fire album, the message was clear that guitars were no longer a pre-requisite for “cool".

With an array of sounds still far too dense and esoteric to ever penetrate the mainstream, the pop charts have nevertheless come to inadvertently resemble, in spirit if not in actual design, Anticon’s trademark sense of stylistic ambiguity. The story of Anticon, then, is not so much the story of American popular music as it is a distorted carnival mirror image held up to its constantly shape-shifting body.

Just as we have learned to never know what to expect from the pop charts, though, longtime Anticon followers by now know all too well what to expect from the label. This is less a criticism than an observation. There is, after all, as much value to be found in refinement as there is in innovation (which the label, just to reiterate, has offered much of over the years), and the Anticon crew has continued to release consistent, at times even exceptional material -- Why?’s Alopecia, for one, remains one of the year’s most richly satisfying releases -- all while expanding its base and letting its stable of artists grow. But the fact that the current mainstream has rendered Anticon somewhat less freakishly distinct in its own blurring of the lines between pop, hip-hop, indie-rock and electronica remains an compelling, if minor, one.

This absence of the shock of the new is particularly evident on Resurgam, the first solo release by label mainstay Alias since 2004’s terrific All Things Fixable. The, er, alias of producer/arranger Brendon Whitney, Alias’ releases all tend to skew towards the more strictly electronic end of the label’s sonic continuum, his affinity for populating his largely instrumental compositions with dark grooves and glitch-filled melodies making him as much of a peer to such genre titans as DJ Shadow or Boards of Canada as he is to his own label mates. Given that Alias’ output tends to be somewhat more clearly derivative of a recognizable body of influences, Resurgam faces the uphill battle of being that much more difficult to distinguish from the rest of the electronic crowd, let alone the Anticon one.

Fortunately, Whitney remains a crafty and talented arranger, and Resurgam is another solid, if rarely remarkable, collection of electronic mood music. Fresh from numerous collaborations and remix projects, Resurgam comes off as comfortable and relaxed, the sound of Whitney happy to be back on his home turf and exploring the range of his art. Opener “New to a Few", with its chanted vocals, laser-beam synth hooks and pulsating drum loops, resembles a late '80s-style hip-hop backing track, and a few other songs here, like the shuffling “M.G. Jack” and the nervous twitch of “Death Watch” similarly, if vaguely, hint at club-style dynamics. Just as often, Whitney revels in the more serene, almost new age-y textures of the ominous “Autumnal Ego” and the lovely “I Heart Drum Machines", while seasoning much of the album with similarly mellow sub-two-minute interludes throughout.

And because this is an Anticon release, Why?’s Yoni Wolf makes his trademark appearance on “Well Water Black”, contributing a typically quirky rap to Whitney’s sputtering drum-and-bass arrangement. Perhaps the one thing that Anticon really does have in common with current mainstream pop and hip-hop is a heavy reliance on back-patting guest stars. It winds up being Resurgam’s most interesting song overall, if only by briefly severing the uniformity of the rest of the album, all too handily summarizing the dilemma that Alias -- and, possibly soon, Anticon as a whole -- may be facing. Resurgam is pleasant and occasionally quite captivating ear candy from an artist who may nevertheless have to work harder in the future in order to remain distinct.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.