cLOUDDEAD's crew of rap astronauts are what quiet revolutions are made from. Since their beginnings in Cincinnati as outside-the-box rappers to a recent shuffle to Oakland, CA as associates of hip-hop's scruffy headed indie empire, Anticon, cLOUDDEAD has represented a rupture in hip-hop classicism and a tug towards a space where sorta-rap, pretty harmonies and whiny drones flirt with tiny, infectious melodies. Composed of why?'s harmonizing wails, former business student turned warm-hearted sage, Doseone's rhymes and 8-bit beatmaker, odd nosdam, cLOUDDEAD make mush of rap history. Yet, despite shrugging off boundaries they staying true to the playfulness of fresh verbals and balancing it with the pitter-patter of warm beats.
On their brilliant new record, 'ten', they leave behind the lo-fi noodlings of their self-titled first album, a collection of their early 10" singles, for a richer, more coherent vision. White-hot and complicated, 'ten', balances Dose and why?'s wandering thoughts with groaning organs and meticulously textured songs. As opposed to their last album, which relied heavily on the wonders of piecemeal production, this record feels tight and focused without losing its joyful noise.
The opening track, "Pop Song", whittles over a grunting horn melody and a sludgy, pacemaker beat that finds Dose speaking of a "wooden woman and her hollowing out" and a "wooden man and his splintering self" and why? whispering sugary harmonies through sleepy ambient echoes and the crackles of thrift-store records. As the first track solidifies, Doseone's tommy-gun verbals, always glued to his other projects (such as Themselves), are sparse, which allows for more patience to understand he and why?'s Diane di Prima-meets-Cookie Monster poetics. A young, British lad cutely tells of goods and who they are made for ('wine and cake for gentlemanÉ') on "The Teen Keen Skip" as the sample suddenly clicks n cuts and becomes the twitchy melody that underlies the shifting tempos and barbershop drawl that ends in their practically copy-righted drone. Similarly, "Rhymer's Only Room" and "The Velvet Ant" bump crunchy Casio beats and sketch peculiar animal metaphors ("strawberry in an ostrich throat" and "people are aborting full grown goats") that makes one wonder what 60's children's books they were flipping through for inspiration. "Son of a Gun" and "Rifle Eyes" capture cLOUDDEAD at their most socially conscious, but don't pencil them in with Talib Kweli and Co. just yet (though its roll call of fallen soldiers from 2Pac to Julius Caesar is pretty hot) as they find space to use their literary crayons to color outside the lines.
The milky melody of "Dead Dogs Two" scoops up a wandering keyboard stab and finds why? philosophizing, "we secretly long to be some part of a car crash" next to Dose's infectious nasal whine. Darkness washes over our cLOUDDEAD heroes as "3 Twenty" drips with a chilling organ that rubs up against a choppy beat, in a beautiful instrumental that proves their trash aesthetic can produce dreamy results. On "Physics of a Unicycle" they rework a theme from their first record ("Physics of a Bicycle") through the simple pokes of keyboard that drizzle into why?'s shy, buttery rhymes. A lazy patter usurps the crunk philosophy of a nameless cat (E-40, perhaps?) on "Our Name" as Doseone becomes the 5th Kraftwork member for thirty seconds through wiggly synths and a vocoder. Like a screwed-and-chopped Faust, cLOUDDEAD meander through heavenly drones and why?'s getting electrocuted by his bathroom faucet to end this complicated and rewarding album.
cLOUDDEAD have always been historians of unwritten soundclashes. Balancing a smartness that sometimes borders on pretense, yet weighing in the tiny joys of making music, 'ten' brilliantly exemplifies something only a handful of contemporary musicians (Radiohead, Café Tacuba, Bjork) have accomplished: getting better with time. Ultimately, whether appreciated or disregarded, cLOUDDEAD represent a new history, one that doesn't forget that its roots can also be used as wires.
MARTIN DE LEON II