Have we become so old already? Only a short time ago, writers like myself were praising the anticon label for its promotion of intelligent, conceptual hip-hop; it, for a few years this side of the millennium, truly led the way for labels like Definitive Jux and Lex. Just lately, though, the wheels have wobbled dangerously, threatening to fall off the machine entirely. Jel’s long-awaited Soft Money wasn’t half as good come a long-term assessment as initial listens implied, and now skilled beat-master Alias has delivered a collaborative record that fails to absolutely impress after only a single run through. It just sounds old: tired, unconvincingly assembled and devoid of real passion. So no, then: we’ve not aged before our time, anticon has.
Rona ‘Tarsier’ Rapadas is the star of this show, admittedly – her silken tones are easily comparable with those of Jessica Bailiff or Hope Sandoval – but from a label fan’s perspective it’s very disappointing to hear a near-absolute absence of creativity in Alias’ beats. Everything’s so by-the-book that Tarsier’s vocals can’t fail to float to the surface of one’s attentions; they become the only facet for which Brookland/Oaklyn is noteworthy, as compositionally these songs are largely uninspired. A brief dalliance with an acoustic guitar on ‘Dr. C’ aside, the first half of this album is unlikely to warrant repeat plays in many a stereo. Unless Dido’s a mainstay on said hi-fi, perhaps.
Interesting turns do await come the final five songs, though: ‘5 Year Eve’ employs a cello to superbly atmospheric effect, sounding like a Westernised take on something that might’ve soundtracked Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (or an Eastern cinematic success of your choice). ‘Luck And Fear’ is the outstanding album highlight however, dose one’s hyperactive raps adding a much-needed sense of urgency to proceedings while Tarsier looses her train of lyrical thought entirely, waffling about being a kite or something.
However varied the record’s final few songs are, though, the overall impression left by Brookland/Oaklyn is that of an opportunity missed: there’s no doubting the quality of these vocals, but Alias’ half-asleep attempts at crafting release-worthy instrumentals to complement said layers of loveliness ultimately frustrate. They’d more than likely be dismissed by Portishead circa 1994 for being too ‘trip-hoppy’, and subsequently in 2006 a number of arrangements sound incredibly dated. You can hear the potential for sure – how can you not when such a talent is involved – but the realisation, the execution, falls so far short of the genuine greatness of Alias’ own Other Side Of The Looking Glass long-player.
That is a record to celebrate, to recommend wholeheartedly; this, though, sadly is not. A smattering of sublime moments aside, it’s a whitewash of mediocrity. And here was this writer hoping that anticon would grow old disgracefully…
5Mike Diver's Score