Is anybody else a little worn-out by this new strain of "indie rap?" You know what I'm talking about - the releases plastered all over the pages of URB Magazine, praised incessantly by the converted punk rock suburbanites who are too affluent to identify with grittier sounds, too pseudo-intellectual to stomach simpler fare, too cool to find appeal in major label material. While Def Jux, Rhymesayers and Babygrande have been responsible for some of the finest music to grace rap music in recent years, it has become glaringly (irritatingly) apparent that they are solely culpable for opening a gateway into an alternate musical dimension- one where standard 4/4 arrangements and linearity is shunned entirely for exercises in interstellar digitized blips and scattershot delivery, where gangsta swagger is condemned in lieu of politically-oriented diatribe and self-indulgent overwrought simpering. While the genius of "Cold Vein", "Fantastic Damage", "Lucy Ford", "I, Phantom" and "Violent By Design" cannot be dismissed, one can't help but feel as though the movement has seen better days, before it was overcome by formulaic redundancy.
Case in point: Grayskul's Deadlivers. In many senses, this shares many aesthetic qualities with "The Cold Vein" and latter day Jedi Mind Tricks material, straddling the line between Cann Ox's stratospheric, otherworldly angularity and Jedi Mind Tricks' aggressive, hardcore-for-mall-kids sinew. Yet, while such comparisons seem to promise engaging, visceral music, the far presented here is far too predictable to warrant your attention. The concept itself seems novel enough- name your rap group after a mystical cartoon stronghold, indulge your unhealthy fixation with superheroes via rambling, train-of-thought rhetoric and encrust it all in leftfield, convincingly nefarious beats. Of course, application varies greatly from theory, and this record feels FAR too contrived, FAR too by-the-numbers to arouse anything more than ambivalence, quite an ironic development considering this movement's aspirations were clearly to present an "alternative" to traditional formulas.
All the hallmarks of indie rap are here- Elaborate, stream-of-consciousness flows, bombastic, intergalactic production, esoteric themes that will thoroughly baffle you unless you make a conscientious effort at grasping them. Of course, this is not to say that we don't have more straightforward fare here- "Bombs and Chemicals" boasts a sufficiently muscular but derivative beat, adorned with enthused spurts of spirited braggadocio like "some new millennium shit/ iller than carcinogens". "Voltronic Instructional Espionage", while flaunting a VERY cool name, is a confused mish-mash of incoherent psychobabble made all the more obvious by one of the more straightforwardly nod-inducing, sinister compositions on the record. This record is so clinical, so nauseatingly turgid, that Canibus' appearance on the record couldn't be more appropriate, his cyborg-with-a-thesaurus style proving to be perfectly at home with Grayskul's endeavors. Sole bright spot "Do They Exist" (a VERY nice beat fuelled by a vocal sample culled from a 1940's Chinese 7"..what…the…fuck?) fails to rescue what is an interminably self-indulgent record, one which haphazardly tries to fuse Vinnie Paz angst, Cann Ox's extraterrestrial sense of exploration and MF Doom's nerdy pop culture savvy with the spontaneity and free-flowing sensibilities of Atmosphere, a seemingly infallible formula for indie chart success that unfortunately proves far too textbook for this reviewer's liking.
If you have developed and nurtured an insatiable yen for Jux-flavored sounds over the years, I would imagine you'd be far more tolerant of this release than I am. To these ears, though, it is painfully obvious that for the most part, this surge of post-Co Flow, post-Atmosphere artistic wankery has been running on fumes for far too long. Boring.
Music Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: August 16, 2005