The New Human is Illegal

(Morr Music; 2004)

By Scott Reid | 13 April 2004

Since releasing his debut Bottle of Humans in 2000, Sole has been slowly building on its promise, culminating with last year's excellent Selling Live Water and now, in a slightly different direction, with The New Human Is Illegal (under the pseudonym Man'sbestfriend). Sole has made clear that the record was made "just for fun" and though it certainly sounds like he had a blast putting this thing together, he still manages to sound as pissed off and serious as ever. I'm not sure he can operate any other way.

Originally available as a tour-only release (we get added tracks on this version), New Human finally gets a proper release through Morr Music and, yes, it picks up on everything we'd expect from Sole: he's still extremely intense and critical (as always, his big targets are politics and himself), he still has a knack for making lyrics that would sound like shit coming from anyone else work (well, most of the time) and he's still got a great taste for rendering his style and sound -- much aligned to his Anticon brethren -- both unique and exhilarating. The big difference this time around being that the record is self-produced, though he does get occasional help from cLOUDDEAD's Odd Nosdam, Themselves' Jel and the magnificently named Telephone Jim Jesus.

As can be expected with a fully self-produced record from a MC that usually relies on the help of other producers, the record sounds different from the majority of his past material. And yet, even though he takes the production on himself, New Human manages to fall much more in line with what is usually expected from Anticon, clearly influenced by the likes of Nosdam (a lot of the record instantly reminded me of pieces of Odd's work with Why? in Reaching Quiet) and Jel (hints of The No Music can be heard throughout). That said, Sole does a great job at making this an unpredictable and consistently interesting barrage of layered vocals, non-sequitur pop samples and distorted beats, all meshed together in an extremely rough, muddled mix. Frankly, it makes the last cLOUDDEAD record sound like it was produced by the fucking Neptunes.

But this is part of what makes New Human an interesting release from Sole; though I'm sure he could have rounded up his usual speed-dial list of producers and follow up Selling Live Water with something a little more glossy, he throws us a complete curve ball. Which isn't to say that these songs are much different from those on Live Water -- there certainly isn't anything as accessible as "Plutonium" here -- but make no mistake, this is a different creature.

Not surprisingly, the record delves deeply into his predictably left-wing politics (as you could probably guess from his affiliation with Anticon or, you know, just glancing at many of the song titles) and increasing bitterness about issues from music journalism to George Bush to the state of the environment to religion. In tracks like "Little Bank Anthem," he even manages to come off like Eminem at his bitterest, except his focus isn't so much how annoying his fans are as much as by-rote leftist commentary; "there's a war going on seven thousand miles from where you holdin' your neck / I see the truth in it / It's just a race issue and it's got nothing to do with us." If you've wondered why I've referred to Sole as divisive, now you probably have your answer. And though he does manage to sometimes sound like the words "Dear Adbusters" should preface his lyrics, his refusal to mince words also has the ability to turn out some of his most memorable work.

But, as with almost all of his previous output, it's not hard to look past a few embarrassing lines here and there (and trust me, you'll have to) to get into all that there is to enjoy. Thankfully his lyrics got a lot easier to swallow with Live Water and New Human continues in this tradition, making only a couple of serious stumbles ("Twenty-year old girls with mysterious cancer in the lymph nodes / See the benefits of genetically modified foods / For rednecks bombing villages is democracy and action," for instance, and uh, pretty much the rest of "Attack Russia" and the whole of "The Devil's a Traveling Man").

"No Thanks" (sporting what is probably the best production of the lot), "Class Action Lawsuit Against Earth" (like "Ode To Clean Air," a perfect mixture of Why?'s pop-oriented arrangements and the usual relentless vocal performance we'd expect from Sole), "Numb" (if you've ever wondered what a Depeche Mode remix of a Sole track would sound like -- and we all know you have -- your day has come), "Dream I Had On 25th Birthday" (the backing of which borrows from Nosdam's usual serene sample/distorted slow beat technique), "Poor Is Cool" (despite the title) and "Victim Idol" (the closet the record comes to having a linear "single") are all excellent, taking what made Live Water so compelling and wrapping it in a messier, warmer production.

There are some clear exceptions, of course. "If You Don't Like My Music," though it starts with a decent sample, is far too annoying ("THAT'S A LIE/THAT'S A GOD DAMN LIE!!/ GET HIM OUT OF MY OFFICE!!/ YOU'RE FIRED!!")/boring as shit for too much of its twelve minutes. "The Devil's a Traveling Man," albeit delivered in one of his best vocal performances, sounds like it was produced in FruityLoops with samples that came with the demo. "Dream About Afghanistan or Oakland," with its MOR acoustic guitar sample, isn't much better, but at least isn't the jumbled, distorted mess of "Great Open Grey," which sounds like Sole went temporarily tone-deaf and placed two separate tracks over one another for the fuck of it.

It, combined with "If You Don't Like My Music" make for a pretty underwhelming ending to the record, making it, like all of his records so far, too inconsistent to be truly great. Live Water came awfully close, and The New Human Is Illegal isn't far off from it, but it would be nice to think that he'd eventually grow out of padding his records with some obvious filler and be able to keep his lyrics as easy to swallow for more than a few tracks a time; if he ever does manage to pull it off, we'll have an underground classic on our hands. If not, we'll still be able to piece together a pretty great best-of from the tracks that get it right.