Live from Rome

(Anticon; 2005)

By Chet Betz | 8 November 2007

When the best hip-hop deforming wrought by Anticon isn’t even coming out of Anticon but lies with the side projects of Dose and Jel released on other labels, then the Sebutones fan club members, the pasty, googly-eyed cave creatures, the Chomsky/Zinn groupies and, um, Canadians – those heads look to the flagship of father Sole and wait for his next anchor to drop. In the year 2000 (echo), Anticon was built on the strength of the Them self-titled, the Deep Puddle Dynamics album, and Sole’s Bottle of Humans. Then the patriarchal singular one released Selling Live Water in 2003, presenting the most fit mutation of the Anticon species of production. The future was a bright and shining place. A couple years later, and the future continues to exist as a bright and shining place in the past tense; Anticon presently functions as that dumping ground of distribution where talented artists listlessly self-indulge. And the whole thing decidedly reeks of half-ass. And Sole’s sipping on peach soda.

Live from Rome doesn’t completely stagger back from the mark set by its predecessor. Sole again dances around the burning bush of his song topics by stringing together non-sequitur sequences of post-hippy sloganeering, lyrically rambling and whining and bringing a new/older sort of meaning to “throw your hands up in the air,” but at least he does so with a bit more brevity than before. Furthermore, Live from Rome shows Sole’s flow improving and growing to become a bit more chameleonic in its ability to switch up. Look there! Sole’s a slightly more energetic Vertex-era Buck 65 on “Self Inflicted Wounds.” On “Sin Carne” he raps almost instructionally to pickle-jarred Beastie Boys heads and becomes half-Sage, half-Sole for the standout “Crisis.” Maybe that’s just a sample of Dose One yelling “shut up!” on “Manifesto 232.” His final act of transformation, the golden-age drawl at the end of “Imsotired,” works like the most unexpected of welcome refreshment.

Yet never have Sole’s hooks been so impotent. And when they’re not impotent, they grate. And when they don’t grate, well, there are no hooks that don’t fall into either of those two categories. “Sin Carne” uses a likable member of the grating lot, though. Sole cheapens his wordplay down to “God save the whales / A seat at the bar” and says it like Malkmus; it might be the most classical indie rock moment in the history of hip-hop. It’s a damn sight more enjoyable than its Live From Rome hook brethren, which either just get mumbled a couple more times to be distinguished or, far worse, bluntly yell the song title along with an obnoxious verbal sound effect: “This is an atheist jihad! Boo-ya-ka, boo-ya-ka! Atheist jihad! Boo-ya-ka! Boo-ya-ka!” Christianity and Islam may dryly note his declaration of war with, “Fuck, Sole, that’s almost offensive. When can we expect the Eminem collab?”

Where Live from Rome really falls off, though, is the production. Theoretical prologue: while Jel was off somewhere being totally sweet, Sole ordered the rest of his beat-making cronies to gather round, and he whispered, “Okay, guys, now let’s try to make something shoddier.” If Selling Live Water was the sound of the Anticon aesthetic coming close to graduation, Live from Rome is the drop-out several years later, still smoking pot in friends’ apartments. It’s sloppier and more carelessly mixed, and “Every Single One of Us” and “Manifesto 232” serve as good examples of beats that have all the right sonic ingredients but structurally crumble to detritus after a couple minutes. Alias and Odd Nosdam produce the lion’s share, and their contributions fall well short of their past highlights.

They still do some fine work, and they do it mostly by following in their own footsteps. Nosdam tries to emulate himself with the “Salt on Everything” chugging fuzz-pop of “Dumb This Down.” Sole albums have mid-tempo, pseudo-transcendent title tracks, and while it might not be called “Live from Rome,” “Imsotired” functions in this capacity with its moody piano loop and washes of guitar, Alias clearly trying to continue the tradition of “Bottle of Humans” and “Selling Live Water.” Nosdam and Alias also manage to briefly escape the rest of the album’s entropy with some fantastic progressions in “Banks of Marble” and “Self Inflicted Wounds.”

The most unfavorable sounds here come from the electroclashing of Anticon newcomer Tepr on two of the final three tracks and the waste of Controller 7’s formidable talents on the shameless filler of “Predictions.” Redemption waits on what Sole rightfully announces as “another Controller 7 hit.” Classic Controller drums, a tight bass loop, and a little sizzle of a sample that the man probably pulled off a Portuguese folk record make all sorts of chemistry on “Crisis” before ending in a sublime coda of horn interjections and a vocal chop. Even so, it’s no “Specialist.”

Whatever its relative strengths, Live from Rome is no Selling Live Water. God only knows if Anticon will realize that it’s suddenly ambling in the wrong direction on the path of evolution that it was making such progress on. And will Sole do the right thing and cut his hair? It doesn’t matter anyways… the googly-eyed cave creatures are looking forward to 13+God now.