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Alias and Ehren - Lillian

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Artist: Alias and Ehren

Album: Lillian

Label: Anticon

Review date: Sep. 19, 2005

When one hears the name Anticon, “accessible” is not typically the first word that comes to mind. The Oakland-based collaborative has (in both ensemble and solo configurations) made careers out of weaving beats, rhymes, and electronic soundscapes together, pushing the envelope (and sometimes shredding it), but always doing so with a visceral panache.

2003's Muted marked an important point in Alias’ solo career, signaling a departure from his traditionally loop and sample-based production in favor of the timbres and melodies of live instrumentation. Alias’ production resume casts him as a savior-faire of electronic music, having produced the bulk of Sole’s Selling Live Water, collaborated with Styrofoam, and remixed tracks by Lali Puna, The One AM Radio and Sixtoo. And while the list of production credits goes on, what to expect from his next project was still something of a mystery.

Enter Ehren Whitney, Alias’ younger brother by more than a decade, and something of a brass and woodwind wunderkind. Listening to Muted was the impetus for Ehren to bring his flute, saxes, and clarinet to his big brother’s studio and see what they could create. The result was Lillian, a full-length texture-heavy tribute to the brothers’ late grandmother.

One of Lillian's most important features is its use of space. Its lush soundscapes benefit as much from densely-populated time signatures as they do from the moments of calculated hesitation. Ehren’s superbly played clarinet shines most on “Miso Stomp,” where a spaciously played riff accompanies Alias’ jagged synth line. Perhaps Ehren’s best contribution to the record is his confidence; his instrumentation evokes the poise of a seasoned musician who eschews the spotlight of a solo to explore the stream of consciousness that is Alias' intricate compositional style.

The record moves like an experimental film score, with seemingly motionless drones in spots complementing driving, crunchy beats at other times. Alias’ drum programming nods in the direction of DJ Signify and DJ Krush – both experts in the field – the way dusty kicks and dirty snares scatter towards analog cohesion. The title track’s heavily delayed beeps and clicks speckle in and out of focus while Ehren’s saxophone smoothes out the fuzz, pulling the track’s elements in tighter with a contemplative hand.

Yet, despite the Lillian's relatively unhurried pace, the record builds to its conclusion much too soon; the 13 tracks total less than an hour. Maybe Alias and Ehren wanted to avoid the ceaseless drone tendencies that can often plague downtempo and mood-oriented music, as there are certainly spots in Lillian where repetition approaches redundancy. But with Alias’ deep rolodex of collaborative partners, a guest appearance similar to the Notwist’s Markus Acher on Muted might have helped.

So where does Lillian fit in to the genre-bending cache that is Anticon? It's hard to tell. There are many hip-hop aesthete who would not consider any of the work on this record hip-hop, though I don't agree. If Music for Airports-era Brian Eno and F#a#Infinity-era Godspeed You! Black Emperor had a conversation about Eric B. and Rakim, Lillian would be the soundtrack. Call it what you will.

By Chris Tabron

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