Subtle
For Hero: For Fool
Lex
2006
B+



subtle's For Hero: For Fool isn't your everyday hip-hop album. It references artists and records that most hip-hop acts probably haven't heard. It deals with modern-day politics with abstract, surrealist imagery better read than heard. Songs crash and careen only to perversely drop ambient laptop static or odd left-field turns. For Hero: For Fool doesn't simply require multiple listening sessions and undivided attention, it demands it.

In the five-and-a-half album-opening minutes of "A Tale of Apes," Subtle channel Radiohead, Def Jux, Aphex Twin, The Go! Team, booty bass, nü-metal, DJ Shadow, Nine Inch Nails, Autechre, Animal Collective, Twista, Fennesz, Boards of Canada, and still incorporate the hyper-speed, collegiate white-boy rap that's become Anticon's calling card. It's well-known that some of Anticon's members, including Subtle mastermind Doseone, met while working at the Bay Area's infamous Amoeba Records, but FH:FF is the first time where that little trivia question makes sense. On A New White, Subtle's last record, the group revealed their fascination with ‘60s pop. FH:FF is where they showcase their knowledge of all music.

To add to the musical meleé, Doseone uses his voice for more than just spitting rhymes. He’s equally comfortable stretching, bending, and distorting the often too-quick-to-decipher lyrics. In many cases, he's not the sole vocalist. Subtle employs multiple vocal harmonies, or throw in goofy Muppets voices and random vocal effects.

As you might expect, even after reading the lyrics—which on this album is a priority—Doseone's dense, sprawling poetry needs serious analysis. In the skit directly following lead single "The Mercury Craze," for instance, there's a faux-commercial where Dose mockingly chides, "Is there a terrible time to your life that never seems to let up? / Is it a terrible time of the great nothing much?" Those are words that you can actually hear, and I have no idea what he's talking about, especially because the skit is seemingly a commercial for blood. Over time, though, themes begin to present themselves. There is certainly an apocalyptic current, and the few scenes that are comprehensible form a dystopian backdrop, one of corrupt politicians, bureaucracies, the rise of capitalism, and technology overcoming humanity to the point where mankind has become nothing more than a mere commodity. In the world of FH:FF, blood is more valuable than water or oil.

The first time I heard FH:FF, I was overwhelmed. This is a common situation that I run into when listening to Anticon albums, but the difference here is that I actually wanted to listen to this one again. Immediately. After a while, the quirks and shifts didn't just feel logical, they became obvious. Of course, I would follow electro with soft acoustic music! Place dream-pop in a battle rap song? Why hadn't I thought of that before?!

FH:FF takes the sounds of indie rock, electronic, alternative, classic rock albums, and the conceptual notions behind them. It’s more than just an exercise, it's a statement—one in which the chaos of the music mirrors the rambling, schizophrenic words and anarchic subject matter. Like its undie forbearers Fantastic Damage and The Cold Vein, For Hero: For Fool is a complete work from artists working at the top of their game.



Reviewed by: Tal Rosenberg
Reviewed on: 2006-12-15
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