Living in the southern part of Northern Ireland, it’s fairly easy to take a day trip to Dublin. With the motorway it only takes about 90 minutes and it’s something that the family and I often do when we all have a day off; maybe about twice a year. It’s a great city, possibly my third favourite city in the world (behind Rome at No. two and New York City at No. one) and one whose proximity makes it close enough to travel to often, but far away enough that it remains elusive and exciting. Anyway, the reason for this preamble is because when I’m in Dublin I always go to Tower Records because there aren’t any back in the North. It’s a fairly big and mainstream record shop that nevertheless has an extremely wide selection of books, CD’s, vinyl records for goodness sake, and DVD’s. Because of the vast selection I tend to buy at least something, and I’d try to look for something rare enough I figure I probably can’t get cheaper on Amazon when I get home… so I tend to impulse buy. I was down there again on Tuesday and came across this CD by cLOUDDEAD, a band whose name I had noted many months ago and knew very little about, save the fact they were supposed to be a wildly experimental hip -hop group. On my fourth listen now, and let me tell you – wildly experimental doesn’t begin to cover it.
cLOUDDEAD is the band’s first album, compiled of their first six 10-inch singles that had previously been released on Mush Records. I don’t even know how these tracks were considered to be marketable in the first place, never mind released as singles… Mush Records are pretty underground as far as I’m aware, but even this must be pushing it. Each single operates like a suite of sorts, with the songs divided into some very dissimilar segments separated by silence. As I say, experimental hip-hop doesn’t really cover it: Apt. A opens with a minimalist ambient theme, fading out after about a minute to give way to a really weird lo-fi drone, not unlike a treated didgeridoo or something. The drums, equally processed, some crashing in in fragments, jarring and with little sense of timekeeping. The two MC’s then begin their rapping simultaneously, starting with individual raps over each other, progressing to rapping in unison and finishing with a sort of “call and response” type approach before the music drifts out again, giving way to a brief silence before getting to a half normal sounding hip hop beat. The MC’s, Doseone and Why?, couldn’t really sound normal if they tried though, sounding nerdy and nasal, half-singing and half-rapping. The fragmented nature of the music and the spacey, lo-fi musical backdrops take this music in a direction rather far from traditional hip-hop. I’d say it’s more psychedelic than anything else, with such a Ferris wheel of dream-like sounds your mind starts spinning along with it. Lyrically, it’s just as bizarre. Described as “smartarse surrealism,” the lyrics resemble nothing of the usual hip hop braggadocio or tales of the street: instead we’ve got steam-of-consciousness rambles and deeply odd personal revelations. “Patterns in behavior. “What is a rainbow, Lord?” “A hoop for the lowly.” I must admit I’ve been greedy with the gravity I suit. Family members? I’ve a car full.” Make of that what you will.
And All You Can Do Is Laugh is a progression from Apt. A, I guess… it’s hard to imagine that such music could progress, and yet cLOUDDEAD seem to have managed it. Part 1’s treated, industrial production and disjointed drums are accentuated by a hodgepodge of non-musical samples a la Revolution 9, and some rapping about dead presidents. Guest DJ Signify on Part two adds some classical string samples to a series of vocal samples (some of which must have come out of a cartoon) and the odd scratch here and there. I Promise Never To Get Paint on My Glasses Again settles into a fairly normal hip-hop groove for much of the first part, (although separated into movements as with the other pieces) and Part two, of course, is completely different. The musical backdrop is composed of static, Hindu-like chanting and low bass hums, while the rappers mumble in the background, like the far off voices in the back of your head. It’s just bonkers, friends. The rest of the album adds little new to the mix, but continues the experimental tendencies of the first tracks, although noticeably more spacey in places, with the two-part (Cloud Dead Number Five) being completely devoid of rapping and sounding more like DJ Spooky or DJ Shadow on acid.
My experience of the album is what I imagine a drug trip to be like (never had one): it’s hazy and for the most part you’re completely out of it, drifting along in a sea of depressed awareness and intuition, but every now and then you’ll come across a fragment of something familiar, a voice whispering to you, the jingle of a video game, the chorus of your favourite song. There’s just nothing else quite like it… a psychedelic masterpiece for the hip-hop head.
Words – Adam.