Level Live Wires, the latest album from anticon. stalwart and indie-hop producer-to-the-stars Odd Nosdam, is an album painted in shades of gray. There are few colors to be found amongst Nosdam’s plaintive beats and expansive, near-ambient backdrops; nothing here could possibly be said to be dripping with joy, or dead with defeat, or furiously angry. There are no reds or blues or yellows in the Odd one’s pallette, only blacks and whites. I’d like to say I came up with the interpretation on my own, but Nosdam helped me the same way he’ll help you, by using the same colors for the visual aspect of the album as he does for the aural. Even an exploding car on the back cover of the album is represented in black, gray, and white, somehow detached from the crippling, all-too-vivid colors of reality.
Perhaps this is intentional. According to the liner notes that adorn Odd’s opus, Level Live Wires was recorded “during an emotionally uneven 3 years.” There are no indications as to what it is, exactly, that made those years “emotionally uneven”, but that’s not the point. Just because music was inspired by the artist’s inner turmoil doesn’t mean it’s about that turmoil. One gets the sense from the 40 minutes of music on this album that it’s a response to that turmoil, a defense mechanism. Nosdam has created the perfect album with which to crank up the volume, lay your head on the nearest surface, and lie comatose to. Its appeal lies in its pervasive stillness. Its beats exist for the sake of grounding it, keeping it tied to the terrestrial as it flirts with the celestial.
A number of guests make appearances, though most of them are so well integrated as to make it difficult to discern the difference between their presence and Nosdam’s thick production. Jessica Bailiff can hardly be heard amongst the wall of sound that he’s put together for “Fat Hooks”, though it must be said that once you do hear her, harmonizing with the measures-long synth washes, you can’t picture the song without her. It’s a lovely effort, all huge synths and loping beats, and not a fat hook in sight. anticon. co-conspirator Jel shows up with some drums for a few tracks, but again, it’s hard to tell where the Nosdam drums end and the Jel ones begin. The only truly obvious guest appearance is from TV On the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, who shows up for a few minutes on “The Kill Tone Two” to do a stream-of-consciousness Doseone impression over a backdrop of analog static and guitar loops. This fools us temporarily into thinking we’re listening to cLOUDDEAD, though “Burner” takes us right back into Nosdam solo territory with its infinite drones and cursory drum programming.
In the end, the guests don’t matter, because the portrait being painted here is of Nosdam himself. As with the aforementioned “Fat Hooks”, track titles seem designed for the purpose of misdirection. “Freakout 3” happens to be one of the most peaceful tracks on the entire disc (save for the final second or two), eschewing the beats entirely and letting the ambience take over. Think of it as a response to a freakout, a way of combatting such an event’s ill effects. Even tracks that appear transitional (as evidenced by their short run time) seem to have purpose — “We Dead” is harrowing for the disembodied, antimelodic loop that forms the song’s title, and “Slight Return” is a quick study in how to make a song based in playing things backward sound not cheesy.
As should probably be expected for an album that sounds like solace, like an internal retreat, the album starts and ends on basically identical drones. It’s perfect for pushing play, activating “repeat album”, and zoning for hours on end. It never startles, it never pushes away, it only draws its listener inward. It is solace, it is peace. In its own skewed way, Level Live Wires is tenuous, temporary peace.