A New White
ubtle are the latest offshoot hybrid lovechild of the anitcon collective, featuring Adam ‘doseone’ Drucker (cLOUDDEAD/themselves) and Jeffrey ‘jel’ Logan (themselves). After releasing four consistently experimental (yet inconsistently rewarding) EPs on Lex, they dropped the track “f.k.o” in October as a teaser for their debut album. It teased, indeed, for Subtle had decided to confound expectations in the only way still could; they recorded a pop song. Granted, it was a pop song which spread beatnik rumors that ‘the sun is flipped by hat tipped Private dicks’ over a backing track that veered from folky electronica to Beach Boys lush, folded over biscuit-box beats from jel. Simply put, it was fantastic, and the bar was raised way, way up for their debut album, A New White.
It comes as a slight disappointment, then, that Subtle’s debut sees them both exceed and confound the expectations set up by “f.k.o”. Here’s why: if A New White was a scene in The Matrix, it would have doseone facing Jel, dully intoning “We need instruments. Lots of instruments” as racks of samplers, synths and electric cellos wizzed past. Just as the Beasties dropped the live instruments, Subtle picked them up, and much of what makes A New White work is the incredibly dense and well arranged music behind jel’s beats and doesone’s lyrics. Yet don’t expect ‘consciousness-expanding’ or ‘keeping it real’ over hip-hop beats: Subtle stand on the final frontier of the hip-hop universe, forever teetering between staying in their own realm and ascending to the vanishingly vast hyperverse of all possible musical styles. I’m not kidding—this album has it all: electric cello, three samplers, three keyboards, a guitar, live drums, woodwind, melodica, partridge…you get the idea.
So what makes this is a ‘good’ instead of a ‘great’ album? First track “Song Meat” presents the case for the prosecution. This track contains more musical threads and ideas within its 4’35’’ length than most albums do: it starts darkly industrial with buzzing machine noise and echoing crunches, changes its mind and becomes psychedelic rock for about a minute, drops into echoey dub, back into blessed-out rock topped off with a fantastic sax solo, then just time for a bit of Prince-like funk with doesone doing a pretty good falsetto before fading out. Phew! It reminds me most of sadly missed pop experimentalists The Boo Radleys, Subtle’s transatlantic partners-in-research who were also not above corrupting a perfectly good track by trying to do a kind of ‘Young Person’s Guide to Indie Music’ in four minutes. And I haven’t even mentioned doseone’s lyrics yet: imagine a cut-up of William Burroughs and you’ll be approaching the dense nonlinearities present in his musings. He’s gracious enough to supply us with a lyric sheet, though, and so I look forward to reading the first of many on-line interpretations of..well, what exactly it is he’s talking about.
Yet what would you rather have: musicians with too many ideas, or too few? A New White is Subtle’s new chemistry set: they’re still mixing the funny powders with the strange-smelling liquids, giggling over the results and making a mess on the carpet. Their next album will undoubtedly win them a Nobel Prize.
Reviewed by: Dave McGonigle
Reviewed on: 2004-12-01