13 & God

13 & God

(Anticon/Alien Transistor; 2005)

By Chet Betz | 18 May 2005

When the twelve apostles and Jesus all got together, it was basically a dozen mortal guys with another mortal guy who counted as one complete man while also counting as one complete deity. Thus, thirteen men and God composed the politburo of Christianity. In the coalescence of Anticon’s Themselves with the Notwist to become 13 & God, one may ask who’s the “13” and who’s the “God,” but the implication is that “God” is already in the “13.” Thankfully so, for who wants to debate which group has proven itself more transcendent when both have great albums like Them (2000) and Neon Golden (2003) to their names.

However, while Christ’s revolution united the apostles and gave them the purpose of spreading its message, the 13 & God project basically just throws more personnel in with little purpose beyond them trying to fit together cozily enough. Sure, Adam Drucker and Markus Archer can hold hands with the best of them, but the world will remain unchanged. They could have changed it, too.

A soft organ melody and bass harmonize with Archer’s mutterings as a guitar swells, and then Jel photon torpedoes that with bursts of static and a percussive freak-out that sounds like kitchen utensils at war. The interruption settles into a rattling beat with a drum kick that’d roundhouse Chuck Norris, and Jel flips the organ line so that it sounds like a church hymn being sucked down a drain. Multi-tracked Doses and Archers choirboy perversely until Archer breaks off and starts repeating a line that builds in grandeur and reverb like the coda of “The Bad Arts.” As this continues, Dose out-Twistas “Slow Jamz” and shreds the microphone with his absurd twenty-syllables-a-second flow; Archer takes one of Jel’s kitchen utensils to his frets and sends out waves of Sigur Rós distortion as the beat double-times its way to a heroin rush climax, squealing sax samples looping off into infinity.

That was all a lie and a dream, a song that doesn’t happen on the album. What does happen is a process of neutering; 13 & God substitute safety for vitality.

Single “Men of Station” works pretty effectively as a juicy Notwist fragment fleshed out into a four minute pop song. “Perfect Speed” operates on the same principle, and not surprisingly these two songs are the best stuff on the album. It’s unfortunate, though, that any observable Themselves impact comes down to little more than stronger-than-Notwist drums, faint Doseone BGVs, and a bit of grit. Furthermore, both songs exhibit a stubborn stasis in words and music, a weakness only hinted at in the work of Notwist and one that Themselves ably avoided despite their genre. “Afterclap” excites with enough of a hip-hop feel to include scratches, but few heads will nod, and while “If” adds a little build to the excellence of arrangement and melody that characterizes the album’s finest tracks, its attempt to integrate a closing rap verse from Dose comes off half-hearted and awkward. Perhaps that awkwardness offers some small excuse for the stylistic segregation in 13 & God.

There’s no excuse, however, for making a milquetoast of Themselves. “Low Heaven,” “Ghostwork,” and “Soft Atlas” are solid songs, but they burn a tad dimly compared to the intensity and insane invention of Dose and Jel’s former fireworks. Then, with wanton six to seven minute tracks like “Tin Strong” and “Superman on Ice” and “Walk” lumped together in the album’s second half, 13 & God become purveyors of ambient-hop… and that’s just not cool.

It’s pointless to talk about concepts and lyrical content because, seriously, 13 & God aren’t trying to say much of anything. They’ve got no gospel to spread. Could that be their core flaw? Not really. Dose and Jel’s post-rock sextet Subtle made nothing say a whole lot of something on last year’s incredible A New White. The music’s effort to push, that itself was the message, and perhaps the problem with 13 & God is that while it’s a coalition of fantastic talents, Themselves submit to the expectations of a pussy glitch-pop crowd, and the Notwist mistakenly assume that hip-hop fans don’t want songs with dynamism or structure. It’s pleasant to think about Jesus and his disciples teaching love and getting along and singing John Lennon covers, but those men died on a quest to take over the world. 13 & God make some pretty listenable shit, but they’ve got no scars to show.