The No Music (Anticon)

By now, many Bay Area natives are familiar with the existence of the eight-man Emeryville-based hip hop crew Anticon, if not what its precise sound is. The collective first turned heads in 1998 with a mildly engaging word battle between Sole and non-Anticoner El-P, as well as a slew of tweaked-out, stream-of-consciousness productions — stuff that references the soul but mostly feeds the head. But it wasn't until last year that Anticon group cLOUDDEAD's smoked-out rhythms took the music to a higher level, assuring listeners there was a funky heartbeat beneath the experimental production. Suddenly the crew was being hailed as the flag-bearer of an avant-hop movement that featured the likes of Dälek and, ironically, El-P's Cannibal Ox.

All hype aside, with Themselves' The No Music, lyricist Doseone (also in cLOUDDEAD) and producer Jel (also of Deep Puddle Dynamics) take Anticon to the next level. Manufacturing gritty hip hop with an indie-psychedelic bent, the pair strikes upon an original sound, one that's alternately sinister and soulful.

By the time the smoothed-out thunder of the instrumental opener “Home: Work” bleeds into the surging groove of “Mouthful,” it's clear that this album is the product of sustained creativity and focus. Doseone's multitracked lyrics — either spit rapidly from the back of his nose or stretched out and sung — are so tightly fused to Jel's raw beats that it's difficult to remember to listen to the actual words. However, when you do pay attention to the lyrics, it's clear this isn't the usual, third-eye-referencing Anticon record. The chorus of the album's centerpiece, “Good People Check,” for instance, goes, “Shove that gun up your ass/ You're as good as dead,” a sentiment far more hard-core than past spiritual head-noddings, or even Dose's typical dream-journal auctioneering. The restless “Paging Dr. Moon or Gun” sounds like both Dave Matthews snarling through a bad trip and Tom Waits howling over a garbage-pail band. And on the funky “Dark Sky Demo,” Doseone's stuttering delivery drips with malice: “I cut corn, I cut corn and cut throats with the same knife/ That's why I wear pants, to wipe blood.”

Although Anticon's strategy of pursuing every conceivable collaboration among its members can seem like a recipe for diluted noodling, The No Music suggests that maybe the young crew just needed a little more time to find, well, Themselves. This milestone release may or may not uncover Anticon's audience, but over time it will mark the point the collective hit its stride.

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