CLOUDDEAD, so far as I know, consists of MC’s Why? and Dose One, and DJ Odd Nosdam. They’re in some way connected to the Cincinnati based Anti-Pop Consortium, and beyond that, well, you’ll have to ask one wiser than I.
This doesn’t so much stretch hip hop to it’s limits as throw out the conventions of the genre altogether and replace them with a hazy and deranged approach to making music that’s constantly blurring the boundaries between rap, abstract electronica, poetry recital, ambient atmosphere creation and random sound collage.
Deliberately difficult and knowingly ground breaking, no attempt is made to help the listener understand the big sonic mess contained within the cLOUDDEAD CD. There’s no track listing whatsoever, and the music fades out, fades back in and transforms itself so frequently that trying to divide the 73 minutes of cLOUDDEAD into individual songs would be a pretty futile exercise.
The cLOUDDEAD soundscapes are often reminiscent of Boards of Canada, but a lot more disconcerting, and also of Kid A, but fuzzier and less precise. Rhythms and beats, when there are any, sound muffled and appear imperceptibly amongst the dense pattern of rumbling bass noises, machine hisses, scratching and soft orchestral arrangements (I swear they’re even sampling Mogwai at one point). And it’s all very, very slow. The sound is both relaxing and vaguely disconcerting, calming enough to let you close your eyes but just edgy enough to keep you awake.
The real strength though, lies in the vocals. While it might be lacking a track listing, the CD booklet does feature a complete lyrics sheet, and it makes for fascinating reading.
Even if you don’t dig the record, the sleeve proves to be an awe inspiring book of avant garde poetry in it's own right.
CLOUDDEAD venture so far beyond the normal constraints of hip hop lyricism it’s difficult to comprehend. On the occasions where they do stick to a traditional rhyming patterns, the words are so far out as to make Dr. Octagon sound like Will Smith. A brief example:
_ I taught myself to survive
A four story fall
Wearing a space suit
And a dead Englishman’s socks.
It’s a text book procedure, kid,
Right out of the pages
Of the hollowed out book
Where I once hid
My paint speckled glasses.
I’ve kept a razor under my tongue
Since I was a small toddler with a tight belt
I haven’t been able to kiss a woman
With an open mouth my friend
cos I’m afraid I’d split her lip
Is that sick?
_ And a lot of the time, they drop any semblance of rapping altogether, as straight up beat poetry, snatches of telephone conversations, mystifying soundbites, shouts and mantras and samples from Victorian melodramas, Film Noir and Scooby Doo rise out of fog, stake a claim to your attention and disappear again. Sometimes this leads to some scary listening – you know those recordings you hear occasionally, made by ghost hunters and similar weirdoes, of ‘mysterious spirit voices’ and stuff? It’s a bit like that.
In keeping with the album’s complete disdain for hip hop tradition, the MC’s sound like the absolute opposite of every rap cliché you can think of .. if ‘geek rap’ was a viable genre, Why? and Dose One would surely be masters of it. I sadly no nothing of their background’s or lifestyles, and thus can’t be sure, but they definitely sound like they’re more at home mumbling about ‘the physics of a bicycle’ and bigging up pre-war American presidents than they are with the standard gangsta shtick. Which is quite refreshing really.
What’s less refreshing is when the record’s knowing attempts to be avant garde begin to obscure the basic enjoyment of the music. They often insist on rapping in a variety of almost indecipherable accents, and whenever things come too close to a regular flow, they take great pains to distort the voices or bury them under fuzz and atmospheric noise, completely obliterating some of the best lyrical passages. It’s at these moments that you begin to feel like a bit of a chump for paying 12 quid for this disc.
In a futile attempt to adequately sum up the cLOUDDEAD experience, I liken it to; ‘smoking dangerously strong skunk whilst listening to the Wu-Tang Clan performing the works of Allen Ginsberg and poking your head out of the window at the same time to check out the building site across the road’.
And this still isn’t even close. To call it ‘intriguing’ is an understatement. I can’t even decide whether I like it or not. And whether it’s genuinely innovative, or simply a pretentious attempt to appear cutting edge, remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure - after a few days listening to cLOUDDEAD, all other hip hop and dance begins to sound worryingly old fashioned..
7Ben Haggar's Score