A New White
By Chet Betz | 15 November 2004
The music goblins, the gluttons with bits for brains, after having gorged themselves on every category of every color of tune, every sanguine strain and snappish snare hit, decided to look for something new. Fresh fruits don’t often fall from withered vines, so they looked in new territories of sketch-charted land, its fresh fertility fought over by pensive pioneers in horn-rim bandwagons with bookcases of Beckett bolted down in the back. Who’s to say whether the names of those claimstakers and forty-niners will live on in the historical canon, but in that time and place they were famous by fact of their lack of company, and so the scribe must mention the families of Hood and cLOUDDEAD and Fog and Dalek and Hymie’s Basement and a small etcetera.
One carriage carried Subtle, an intrepid sextet of special virtue, and they formed a colony on the place where they found A New White, milk and honey bubbling up beneath the topsoil. Your scribe, a music goblin, spent forty days and forty nights of forty minutes in their humble abode, and when he left, he left tamed. He knows that there will always be a grove for him to return to, and its fruit glow with nearly every scrumptrulescent hue.
In their cabin at night, Subtle start the main course by serving “Song Meat.” A thick molasses bass reverberates through the wood walls, and Jel takes the kit drums, pots and pans, and lines them on the hooks over the kitchen sink full with everything. Dose One and his shadows twirl in the firelight, his spidery flow entangling the flies and mites in the sawdust air. When the electric guitar and sax scream in, it sounds like The Stooges battling off sinister cyber pixies.
“Our songs are made from re-sampled and re-approached improv,” reads the inscription over the oak door, and the sounds stabbing cracks into that door testify to something like Menomena with a helium-high rapper on the microphone and one of Anticon’s finest on the boards, both backed by a band of multi-instrumentalists with an emphasis on bass, guitars, drums, and keys. The results are songs like ghosts with steel teeth serrated by the friction of soaring into and out of objects with howling mouths agape; this is ethereally insidious music that can drift right through a person while still leaving jagged marks on the insides.
In “I Heart L.A.” a loop of acoustic guitar picking melts into a mélange of electric cello swells, clunky percussion and distorted treble signals from space. Not quite two minutes into the song, Dose One starts to rapidly flow, his fluttering syllables stinging like mutant wasp-moths. The song’s elements then dissociate before reforming into a somnambulant chorus of multi-tracked vocals and a keyboard haze. “The Long Vein of the Law” crashes out the gates like robot jockeys on carbine beasts, Dose taking the lead, the pounding beat of the hoofs surrounded by flashes from a sky of camera stars set to strobe; the coked-up Kid A rap-rock dies for a brief synth segue into a killer coda with a screwdriver guitar riff and Dose One’s cries. Subtle’s songs feel freeform in a carefully arranged way, quietly subverting expectations while maintaining a sense of pacing and purpose.
In “Silence” Jel throws down an audacious backbone of fizzling radiators and ticking conductors emblematic of the man that made “Revenge of the Fern” off Them (2000). At the track’s mid-point off-balance handclaps take center stage before Dose jumps in on a drum trampoline and a chorus line of militaristic barkers kick their fists high under the heat of the theater lights. “F.K.O.” soundtracks the life cycle of leaf imps, the documentary of which can be found at http://www.warprecords.com/fko/. Subtle explore a nature a dimension removed, a canvas where everything’s planes intersecting to form a line that bends into a circle.
They recalculate that garden maze geometry into a definite progression with “She.” A sustained low organ note bows its sober religion to the state’s steady drum march before the bass thuds harshly and Arabian instrumentation sends gypsies scattering petals with their skirt whirlwinds through the Roman parade. Listen enviously, you Black Emperor. Dose coos on “Stiff Fruit” over an insistent acoustic strum, rippling chimes and an underground river. The lullaby belongs in Nod somewhere between the most sedate of Smashing Pumpkins’ B-sides and slow-burning Bloody Valentines. Subtle have brought the common genre touchstones with them in order to find their way in a brave new world.
Subtle’s music is pop and hip-hop, with and without the “glitch” prefix. It’s metro folk and oceanic electronica; it’s West Coast folktronica. It is jazz and fusion, shoegazer and post-rock. Subtle blend their fragments of categorical color beyond bandwidths and add a few quantum packets of darkness to create their own brilliant sonic light ray of New White. It’s the varied yet unified composition of their patented phosphorescence that allows their fruit to glow with nearly every scrumptrulescent hue.