I heard about a group called cLOUDDEAD a couple of years ago. I'd heard that this group was apparently turning rap and hip-hop totally upside down. Well, 'Ten' is their second album. The suspects are Doseone, Why? and Od Nosdam, they of the cut-and-paste, lateral-thinking-required prose and lyricism, the lo-fi beats, the found noise samples, snippets off radio shows and general disdain for 'the-done-before' or 'the-gotta-do-it-that-way'. They are, individually or collectively, often compared to the Beatniks.
Well, leave your expectations at the door when you step in the funhouse of this album. You're going to find a lot more than just the beats. The styles and signatures of many other genres have been taken and twisted and applied with great innovation and gusto. Indy rock, ethnic chant, glitch, bad pop music, even ambient music! You name it, it's been experimented on.
The greatest trademark of the group is their vocal delivery. They don't try to sound like anything but themselves. They have different backgrounds than most hip-hop denizens claim to be from. Because they are so different, there is no pressure or expectation to sound or deliver a certain way. I wouldn't be surprised that when they first began, people wouldn't give them the time of day, let alone anything more than a confused, disdainful frown. But that can be liberating. With no one that can be pleased by whatever you do, you only have yourself to satisfy. When you're already at the bottom of other people's expectations, the only way to go is up.
It is fantastic. Actual 'rapping' doesn't happen on this album. It is more like a mixture of chant, folk song and spoken word. Sometimes, it sounds downright religious. Other times, it sounds like they are purposefully screwing with you. Their best feature is when they bounce off each other. They'll complete each other's sentences, alternate each word between themselves, interrupt each other, drift back and forth from backing vocal to lead vocal. It is rich and captivating. This is particularly well done on the opening track "Pop Song".
And then there are the lyrics, which are about as accessible as Beck. 'The Velvet Ant' - which actually sounds like atmospheric glitchcore - ends with the repeated mantra "A rattlesnake caught in a wheel well/Strawberry in an ostrich throat." And no, the rest of the track isn't any more sensible. Following that minimalist track is "Son of a Gun". It's a track critical of the Military-Industrial Complex and the absurdities of war. It opens with a faux answering machine message to Mom and Dad about "learning to drop bombs on people" and how he will be busy going to all these schools to learn to kill, all in a bored voice. It's beat is led by what sounds like a big band drum, heavily distorted. It's all carried along by an alarm-sounding guitar distortion. The stunningly insightful lyric, "The makers of guns will never go hungry," is sung, and suddenly the style changes completely. It's a hovering piano chord and subtle rock drums in an ethnic Indian arrangment. That dies too, and it's just voices and a marching band snare drum. Finally the song evolves to sound very much like UNKLE. With all that in just one song, it's no wonder no one can or should try to pidgeonhole them.
When you hear the down-tempo, intelligent cliq-hop sound of the eighth track, "3 Twenty," which has almost no coherent vocals or lyrics on it, you wonder why cLOUDDEAD are still called hip-hop at all. It sounds amazingly like German minimalist lo-fi. It's got a great atmosphere to it.
The second track "The Teen Keen Skip" has a hilarious opening vocal sample of some posh English schoolboy reciting a Victorian rhyme. In comes a piano introduction for some children's choir, but just before the choir can sing, the recording gets stuck there and repeats like a dirty record. cLOUDDEAD begin chanting. They are rushing their words to fit in between the skips of the piano sample. An ethnic sounding beat cuts in, and a tinkly organ sound plays here and there. They chant/sing more regularly with odd lyrics like "When the people factory shuts down/There is no math and angles/On the opposite side of telescopes...". Just as in the "Son of a Gun" track, the song keeps evolving. It would be impossible to totally describe the experience to you in just words. They don't do this album justice. It really must be heard to be truly known. 6/10 -- Munir Remahl (25 May, 2005)