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Themselves - The No Music

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Artist: Themselves

Album: The No Music

Label: Anticon

Review date: Jan. 27, 2003

Same Weird Group, Different Weird Name

Dose-one might just be the perfectly postmodern confessional poet that the 21st century has been looking for. Rather than taking a personal moment and making it universally relevant (some lines on the burning of our democracy – damn you, W – etc.), Dose-one abstracts in the opposite direction, singing the song of the universally irrelevant subject. (Like yikes and apathy, or the American youth.) Through both his lyrics (a gem from The No Music: "stomachstomachstomach / how the fuck you gonna hand me a bitter-ass rose, with no bud?") and his delivery, Dose-one dares his listener to follow inward into the plane of the almost-purely subjective instant, that hall of mirrors that is the fractured postmodern selfhood of late capitalism.

And once there, he forces the listener to find a way out in relevance and self-meaning. Which is to say, Dose-one’s songs, on all post-Hemispheres releases, have been among the most unintelligible that “rap music” has ever produced. He shies away from standard usages, disdaining entire parts of speech, often rejecting syntax completely, and relies more heavily than any other semi-known post-rap (etc.) artists on abstract metaphor. Like his favorite partner in crime Why? (Greenthink, cLOUDEAD), extended metaphors can at times leave entire albums swirling in a conceptual mist that even the most diligent listeners would be hard-pressed to penetrate.

Paired with Dose here is Jel, a star among anticon’s many talented producers. Jel’s work with the SP-1200 elevates art to the sublime (go get 10 Seconds!). I don’t think I need to or can say more than that.

So here we are. The No Music is themselves’ follow-up to the 2000 self-titled Them album. Same weird group, different weird name (thanks in part to Van Morrison's ace legal team). New: Jel’s voice on record. He isn’t so much rapping as he is reading a part in the play of Dose’s subconscious; more the chorus in a Greek tragedy than a backup singer. Old: the strained leading and typewriter font, deja-vu-level reminiscent of Circle, in the lyric sheet that accompanies The No Music. Dose apparently likes his poetry to be as confounding visually as it is aurally. The music itself strikes a pose somewhere between the old and the new. This album showcases a more happily experimental Dose-one than the 2000 album did, more along the lines of his work with Boom-Bip and Why?. Flinging himself in a million directions, Dose spreads himself rail-thin across the terrain of his mind and music. Luckily for the listener, Jel is, for the most part, able to keep up.

In fact, some of the songs on The No Music are out-and-out masterpieces. Jel’s jolting beat work on “Good People Check” complements preachy Dose’s “diss song absolute” quite well, and the whole track has a bouncy introspection-turned-global-epiphany, glass half-full feel to it, making lines like “shove that gun up your ass” more friendly than angry, somehow. “Paging Dr. Moon Or Gun” captures a slice of Dose’s manic live energy in the first verse, then flips the same verse at a lethargic peanut-butter-tongued cLOUDEAD pace that devolves into what may be some of Dose’s most seemingly insane moments on wax. And of course, Jel ducks and weaves his way through Dose’s delivery, and at the end of the track I found myself surprised that I never really noticed the change-up.

“Live Trap” is just cool. One gets the impression of microphone and SP fighting for supremacy here, with neither ever really gaining ground. And “Poison Pit” showcases both Dose and Jel at their most masterful. Dose plays his delivery like an instrument, as he always has at his best moments. Jel moves back and forth from dark ambient glitches and tweaks to happy little keyboard medleys, welding the two throughout into an impressively chunky beat.

Not all the songs work that well, unfortunately. There are a few tracks that feel unfinished, as though somehow when the two sonic forces clashed everything was sloughed except the impact itself. “Out in The Open” is probably the best example here (a song that feels far too long at 5 minutes, 23 seconds) that reads like the short dusty interludes of cLOUDEAD, but without Odd Nosdam or Why?’s careful editor’s touch. “You Devil You” feels like a track that might be more at home on a later Jel instrumental album. As it stands, the vocals rub against the grain, and Dose actually seems out of place on the song.

In general, however, The No Music is a masterful piece of work. The genesis from Them to themselves, while not quite a linear trajectory, feels organic, and the entire album hangs together, seemingly without effort. Something about Dose and Jel just works. In the past couple years they have both grown as artists, and the result is some of the best work either of them has ever done, together or separately. This goes beyond good music. “The no music of mother’s milk and going deaf,” – somewhere between innocence and nihilism, the new and the old, I suppose.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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