Themselves: The No Music of Aiff's

Tim Stelloh


The No Music of Aiff's

Label: Anticon
US Release Date: 2003-09-30
UK Release Date: Available as import

Since the release of its first full-length in 1999, the Anticon Collective has stirred up one hell of a fuss among the legions of hip-hop purists. All of its high-minded drivel, its sparse lyricism, and its convoluted beat structures have prompted many to pose the question: can ten white boys from cities that aren't New York or LA get away with an album called Music for the Advancement of Hip-Hop?

Front and center in the debate is Doseone, with his nasal, B-Real-sounding brand of anti-lyricism. The guy is easily underground hip-hop's Mike Patton (of Faith No More and Ipecac Records fame); in addition to appearing on virtually every Anticon release, he's released solo projects, collaborations, as well as a book ("not a novel, not a chapbook, but a real mixed bag, with stories, lies, poems, drawings, collage activities"). And this doesn't even touch on the guy's stage presence. It was once said that when the Beastie Boys hit the stage at Lollapalooza, they looked like they'd just gotten out of prison. Well, the same can be said of Dose, only change prison to loony bin.

Adding to his ever-prolific list of projects, Dose collaborated with producer Jel to release 2000's Them and 2002's The No Music. The No Music of Aiff's (which remixes the latter) includes a new track, a host of re-workings by fellow Anticon artists Alias, Why?, and Odd Nosdam, as well production by Hood, the Notwist, Fog, and Hrvatski, among others.

While the original had its moments of brilliance, listening to Aiff's is like listening to the Portishead live disc. The originals, which might have plenty of great qualities, never sound quite the same.

Almost everything on Aiff's is amazing. A remix by Hood, however, simply layers a track of redlined guitars over the original cut of "Livetrap". Which is too bad, because the original, in all its amphetamine-addled fury, was a bizarre hybrid of dub, a crunk-style beat, and creepy keyboard loops. It was disturbing and loud, and easily could have been the soundtrack to Nightmare on Elm Street. For this reason I can appreciate what Hood did; but actually having to sit through the remix is just a pain in the ass. Likewise, Fog stripped everything that made "Dark Sky Demo" a ridiculously fun jab at retro hip-hop; in it's place they added some flanger and lo-fi tedium.

"Terror Fabulous" -- the new track -- starts the record off with a simple synth melody and Dose harmonizing over a guy named John Wolf before breaking into his usual flow. The track purveys the pop sensibility of Buddy Holly, and immediately sets the tone for the rest of the record: unlike The No Music, which is chock-full of cerebral anti-pop, Aiff's is actually fun to listen to. Hell, you could probably hear "Terror" on the radio (if it wasn't hijacked by Homeland Security first). Don't get me wrong -- the record is still really weird, and it's still saturated with the kind of experimentation that's made Dose the subject of many a hip-hop purist's rant, but it finds a balance quite unlike anything else the duo has released. "Mouthful", which is remixed by Controller 7 and Matth, uses sequenced live instrumentation, a Prefuse 73-like clutter, and is by far one of the most beautiful, most driving beats on the record.

Hrvatski's take on "Good People Check" is easily Aiff's most chaotic composition: it interweaves an acoustic guitar, drum and bass loops, African tribal-like breakdowns, the chorus ("Shove that gun up your ass / You're as good as dead") spoken through a blast of distortion, and a hip-hop beat that samples Run DMC. Yes, this sounds like way too much for five minutes, but some how it works.

Why?'s ironic adaptation of "Poison Pit" is an equally dense remix: he turns the track into a multi-layered percussive jam, complete with a drumclick beat, handclaps, and an acoustic guitar. The guy's super-catchy melodies easily eclipse Dose's tale of American apocalypse, but they make for an interesting combination nonetheless. It's somewhat disconcerting to hear a gently strummed guitar overlaid with "Poison pit / Poison pit / You ain't gettin' any younger".

Most hip-hop heads hate Dose's lyricism as much as they despise his forays into ambient noise. It's not hip-hop to sound like Enya, and it sure as hell isn't hip-hop to jabber on about a bunch of nonsensical crap. But for all of the guy's Ulysses-style verses, he drops an equal number of one-line gems. After an indecipherable verse on "Poison Pit", a single line does the work of an entire song: "Things look / Things look... just the same with no name". Or, in the third part of "You Devil You" (after the stoner intro, the Depeche Mode middle section, and the three or so minutes of verbal incoherence and political commentary), the music cuts to silence, except for some handclaps and a preacherfied Dose, who's beltin' it out like Al Green: "The devil / The devil is a lot like you / He's scared / Scared up to his horns of heaven".

And I've always believed in the power of brevity: a poem that takes ten lines can be a whole lot more powerful than a poem that takes three hundred pages. Hip-hop is certainly no different. Yet it's one of the most verbose styles in the history of pop music -- a form that's built on words as much as it's built on turntables, drum machines, and block parties. So here's Dose, essentially breaking all the genre rules and gnawing his form to shreds.

No wonder hip-hop kids are holding on for dear life.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

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

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