magine the world of hip-hop as a huge, kick-ass party to which everyone is invited. The jocks (Jay-Z, Nelly, Hammer) are in the pool, the popular kids (Outkast, Cypress Hill, Jurassic 5) are telling stories in the kitchen, the smart kids (Roots, Mos Def, Public Enemy) are having an argument in the living room and the troublemakers (Eminem, N.W.A, Wu-Tang Clan) are getting high in a bedroom. On the roof sit the outsiders. Too awkward and sincere to mix with the other cliques, these guys talk amongst themselves about weird people they’ve seen in the park, sunsets and other things that somehow have come to matter to them. Buck 65 is there, so is Fog. cLOUDDEAD is up there too.
cLOUDDEAD is Why?, Dose One and Odd Nosdam, three m.c.’s you may know from their Anticon releases or their work on Hood’s last album. Possessing distinctive voices, impressive flows and collectively bizarre senses of harmony and melody, the three members of cLOUDDEAD spliced together six utterly strange, excellent e.p.’s last year, all of which are available on this self-titled album.
cLOUDDEAD’s sound seems easy to describe. The beats are down-tempo, bass-heavy and dusty. The melodies are almost invariably composed with buzzing, pleasantly grating synthesizer drones. The vocals range from speed of light, ultra-nasal gabbing to slow, thick dialogue to tri-harmonized raps that resemble the work of an urban barbershop quartet. It’s original and devoid of self-consciousness, refreshing in its mixture of the bizarre and the wistful. And if I have to solve the requisite “band X + band Y = band Z” equation, I would say that if anything, it sounds like a combination of Tricky, Ride and early Ween.
But even if that description holds water, it will not prepare you for the sounds and songs on this album. The Apt. A side is probably the most indicative of what to expect, and probably contains the strongest tracks. (None of which have individual titles.) The backing melodies are sad and hazy, but the vocals are a complete contrast – spritely, rhythmic, needling – and make the material far too strange, distinctive and enjoyable to ever bum you out. And All You Can Do is Laugh is far darker. The emphasis here is placed on sound: there are few raps, the pace is slower and a broader gamut of sounds is experimented with (a Waits-y squeezebox, sampled strings, tape manipulations and a passage that would perfectly accompany a creeping Butler are all audible). Jimmy Breeze continually switches the dial from silly to serious, with video game themes running up against cavernous, sustained keyboard notes and acoustic guitar strumming fleeing creepy, minimalist drumming. I Promise Never to Get Paint On My Glasses Again melds the previous three sides, with the transitions between ideas being shorter, almost schizophrenic. It’s also the only part of the album that contains a conventional, aggressive hip-hop song. It sticks out, but only because it sounds so normal. It’s a strong track and is a testament to cLOUDDEAD’s versatility and talent.
And then there is clouddead number five and Bike , the two real mindfuckers. clouddead number five is almost entirely made up of cradling, atmospheric space rock that brings to mind Trans Am. It’s hazy, ambient come-down music perfect for reminiscing about glorious long nights rather than regretting them. There are few beats on this side, and those that are present simply serve as palate cleanings before the next bit of lo-fi lushness. Bike builds on the sound of number five , adding beats, Bobby McFerrin-ish body-music, an acoustic psyche/folk movement influenced by Revolver and backwards raps. And they aren’t just recorded backwards, they are written backwards and delivered backwards.
I know, I know. It all sounds too bizarre to work. But it does. No combination of adjectives could accurately portray what you’ll hear and no second-hand gushing will prepare you for the immense pleasure that is sure to wash over you when you put this album on. You have to hear it to believe it.
Maybe I should have told you that sooner.
Reviewed by: Clay Jarvis
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01