Why? / Odd Nosdam

Split EP! (Anticon)

Putatively, this CD contains two different EPs -- Why?'s You'll Know Where Your Plane Is ... and Odd Nosdam's EAT. But when listening to them collectively, you can easily forget the release is made up of two movements, since the same lo-fi sonics and novelty record snippets permeate the whole. There are some slight differences between the artists, however. Why? is an MC in addition to a beat-maker, so his seven tracks feature his thoroughly nonrepresentational rapping, while Odd Nosdam's eight cuts are more downtempo and all instrumental. The stylistic bleed-over is understandable, though, since the two producers are not only labelmates (on Anticon, which has come to have a very defined aesthetic), but also members of the same group, cLOUDDEAD.

For his part, Why?'s You'll Know Wheresounds like the hip hop record the Beatles and George Martin might have made if they'd had only a crappy eight-track at their disposal. The songs' quick shifts in direction, show tune-y organ lines, and harmonized choruses recall a Casio version of Sgt. Pepper's, with the whimsical tracks snapping together for an almost conceptlike feel. In Anticon tradition, none of the tunes is titled, so we might as well make up our own: On "Ha Ha Ha" (that's the extent of the chorus), Why? raps, "I am in the dollhouse chair with a perpetually fastened safety belt/ Or pinned to Styrofoam, wings extended." Abstraction to the point of surrealism is popular in indie hip hop at the moment, but the slight angst underlying Why?'s free associations resonates more with the emo-punk school. In fact, You'll Know Where features more parallels with the rock world -- Why?'s flatness of voice, the occasional strummed acoustic guitar -- than with the beats-and-rhymes camp.

On EAT, Odd Nosdam pushes the fuzzy-edged beats into deeper recesses of muckiness. In what you could call "Richard Simmons" (that's who the sampled aerobics instructor sounds like), the sluggish drums wallow about in a pool of gurgling surface noise, and on "The Downer" (an apt description of the vibe), guest DJ Mr. Dibbs drops atmospheric turntable work amid a dirgelike piano line.

XLR8R magazine recently suggested that there is a subgenre shaping up called "free rap," which "seems accurate when trying to understand an artist who sounds as if they aren't bothered by what the record-buying public thinks a hip hop record should be." Interestingly, this definition implies that when the public begins to anticipate -- or even expect -- a particular left-field sound, free rap will have to shift course. This style could become as hackneyed as any played-out concept, a cliché of hypercreativity. While Split EP! provides a welcome respite from the conservatism of rap, it also sends up a red flag -- a warning that Anticon's "alternative" might evolve into a samey-sounding cottage industry.

 
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