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Anti-Pop vs. Matthew Shipp - Anti-Pop vs. Matthew Shipp

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Artist: Anti-Pop vs. Matthew Shipp

Album: Anti-Pop vs. Matthew Shipp

Label: Thirsty Ear

Review date: May. 6, 2003

Antipop Redux

Arrhythmia, 2002’s crooked, stuttering opus from New York City’s Anti-Pop Consortium was poised to be an excellent swan song. The album pitted the free rhyming MCs against super simple knock-knock beats, ping pong samples and copyright obsessed alien characters. APC had decided (quite amicably it seemed) to call it quits after Arrhythmia in order to pursue their individual paths. Late last year when Thirsty Ear announced the forthcoming Anti-Pop vs. Matthew Shipp, extra innings were imminent and a collective curiosity piqued. Could Vs. top the density of their presupposed last work? It seemed a perfect match – ardent downtown key banger Shipp against a group best suited to match his illogical flow.

Unfortunately, on Vs. the collective fails to coalesce and best its individual parts. There’s no “I” in team, but there is one in Anti-Pop Consortium, two actually. The big downer about “Vs.” tends to be its sporadic hinting at the greatness that could have been: small pockets of significance surrounded by many mediocre passages. By no means a terrible album (Michael Bolton vs. Kenny G surely could do far, far worse), it mainly fails to convey the excitement and vitality both camps are entirely possible of exhibiting. As such, my feelings towards Vs gravitate more towards “disappointment ” than they do to “dislike.” But, before I start sounding too much like a seventh grade Geography teacher after 75 percent of the class failed the midterm, Vs. deserves some serious dissection.

Vs. most striking characteristic is Shipp’s close-to-the-cuff consistency. Known for his sometimes wild and unorthodox playing style, one seemingly unconcerned with melody or time signatures, he focuses a great deal on single ideas here. Despite the fact that some of the music played by the Shipp ensemble (which includes Daniel Carter, William Parker and Guillermo E. Brown) is further treated by APC in post-production, the spontaneity that both Shipp and APC are known for is never fully realized. No matter how much the sounds are tweaked they still fail to live up to their natural potency. The logistics of the album are hard to surmise – were the themes created by Shipp and company, and then given to APC to tweak? Did everyone crowd into one room to record group performances? Knowing a little more about the process could have added clarity and distinction to the listening experience.

When Vs. falls flat it usually does so by becoming overly familiar – a progression repeated too often, or over-playing that gives the vocalists little room to utilize. One of APC’s greatest assets is their ability to use silence or minimal instrumentation to grab the listeners’ attention. Eventually the awkwardness of certain sounds or themes become catchy, hence the brilliance of Anti-Pop. Most of Vs. sees Shipp staying close to his recently characteristic structured tangents and APC altering brief sections or rapping manically over others. Some of the albums best songs, the APC-dominated “Real is Surreal” and the trance-like “Coda”, sample primarily small detailed sections of Shipp’s contribution and recycle them for APC click-hop. “A Knot in Your Bop”, an almost bluesy children’s rhyme song, displays the best instance of synchronized experimentation. Although veering into straight ahead beats and melodies at times, it’s obvious the group is having a great time together. The song drifts towards recognizable jazz structures – each member soloing at a given time around a predetermined head.

Despite being overly “normal” on this album, Shipp turns in some good performances. The out-of-character sweet melody of “svp” is a nice touch. The final tune, the instrumental “Free Hop”, is closer to classic Matthew Shipp. Openly played and aggressive, the band goes all out. The unfortunate thing about “Free Hop” is the lack of APC; this song would have been a great candidate for some extended collaboration.

The success of a song like “A Knot in Your Bop” evidences that room for some cross-genre dialog is possible. It seems natural that the disciplines of hip hop and jazz (both musical amalgams in their own right) should be further explored in tandem. For whatever reason, Vs. falls flat on high expectations and an inadequate instantiation of artistic vision. Both groups are more than capable of creating something truly unique and perhaps, more difficult; maybe a few more trips to the laboratory could yield interesting results. But, if the trials of commingling genres are what it takes to keep Anti-Pop around in some capacity, then so be it.

By Marc Gilman

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