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Artist: 13 & God

Album: 13 & God

Label: Anticon / Alien Transistor

Review date: May. 22, 2005


13 & God - "Soft Atlas" (13 & God)


13 & God is a collaboration between the German pop group the Notwist and the American experimental hip-hop group Themselves (Doseone, Jel and now Dax Pierson). The album was recorded before all three members of Themselves were involved in an accident in which Pierson was seriously injured.

Unfortunately for fans of the brilliant Themselves, this is an awkward pairing – there are a number of nice moments, but many haven’t been fully developed, and seams divide them.

Take, for example, the first single, “Men of Station”: it’s based on a nice piano progression and bittersweet synth strings. Then the Notwist’s Markus Acher enters in his trademark half-octave vocal range and utterly dull vocal timbre, singing, “We are men of station / We are troubled and just the same / But we’re not as hell as you.” This phrase doesn’t make any sense, and not in a particularly artful or intriguing way. And Acher goes to great lengths to make sure the listener knows it doesn’t make any sense, repeating it over and over. Themselves’ MC Doseone, who has one of the most distinctive voices in hip hop and probably wouldn’t even bother writing a phrase like “We’re just as hell as you” down in his notebooks, only sings background vocals.

Elsewhere, Doseone is more prominent on “Soft Atlas,” which despite being the best track on 13 & God is again based on a half-realized idea. Doseone does rhyme a bit in the first few minutes of the song, but soon he’s wrapping himself around only a few lines: “Without a universal law there is no gravity / Without no gravity there is no atmosphere / Without a atmosphere there is no chance at life / And with no chance at life / I don’t exist.” It’s a fantastic chorus, but 13 & God simply repeat it until the song ends minutes later.

Given the parties involved, it is tempting to view 13 & God as some sort of hybrid of hip hop and indie rock, but there’s actually much less rock here than there is on some other recent Themselves-related projects, such as Clouddead’s Ten and Subtle’s fantastic A New White (which features all three members of Themselves). Rather than highlighting the differences between the Notwist and Themselves, 13 & God levels them. This might be a good thing in some contexts, but here it mostly means that the characteristics that listeners have found endearing about these artists’ previous records are only occasionally present. The warm production, melancholy and tiny hooks of the Notwist’s Neon Golden; Doseone’s bizarre rhyming-in-tune harmonies and absurd observations; Jel’s ultra-detailed textures and snapping beats – all those things are here, but the listener has to dig through quite a lot to get to them.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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