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Subtle - A New White

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Artist: Subtle

Album: A New White

Label: Lex

Review date: Nov. 4, 2004

Easily Lex’s furthest departure from hip hop – Hymie’s Basement only flirts with the same realm – Subtle’s A New White is sardonically comprised of “things that will never be songs.” The anticon-affiliated group’s first longplayer after self-releasing four seasonally themed EPs (a la George Winston) is denser than cLOUDDEAD and less glitched-out than Themselves. Main cohorts Jel and Doseone are joined by pals Jordan, Alexander, Dax, Marty and J. Goody (some of them toured with Themselves), who play everything from melodica to acoustic bass to trumpet.

A thicket of sound, A New White is at times a bumpy ride. Dose flossing like an unpublished muckraker in his spoken Rimbaud-to-rabid delivery; the band choosing to sleep with electric guitars on a few unconventional rock songs; and Jel’s uncanny ability to whisk all this into strangely accessible results.

A gentle acoustic guitar line runs through the heart of “I (heart sign) L.A.,” while a mushy cello barely latches onto the soft, broken break. All skittering switches and 10 Seconds-sequencing, “Red, White & Blonde” is the most decipherable Jel beat and is in need of some serious clinical help. Not exactly its opposite, “Eyewash” sounds like a Cold House outtake sans the brittle British voice, before sputtering into an austere drum pattern that Dose has some fun with. The mean of the two, the springy drum n’ synth of “She” dissolves into purée a of generated tones, while a forest of instrumentation subtly rises on its outskirts.

The scene-stealer throughout is Dose. From his tenebrous sleeve design to the finest prose he’s recorded for any of his multiple outfits (save cLOUDDEAD’s song of the year contender “Dead Dogs Two”), it’s really his show. At once unbridled and focused, he detects “the bright red skeleton of a cynic,” indicts “the information age and its molecular pimping” and doesn’t even need to rhyme anything with “a frozen lake is solved.”

In other spots, he’s “at the nape of his patience” like some sort of detuned Phillip Larkin. And there’s a girl (there’s always a girl) who “circles her beauty marks with the wet end of a blue pen” and “knows we jerk off to the daughters of the world.” At the end of “L.A.,” a susceptible Dose confesses that he has “no new spelling of the word winter”; fortunately his comparable passion for letter funk makes A New White a new way to spell hip hop.

By Jake O'Connell

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