By now, hip-hop heads and Bay Area natives are familiar with the eight-man crew Anticon. The collective first turned heads in 1998 with a mildly engaging word battle between Sole and non-Anticoner El-P, as well as a slew of stream-of-consciousness productions -- stuff that references the soul but mostly feeds the head. But it wasn't until last year that Anticon spin-off group cLOUDDEAD's smoked-out rhythms took the music higher. Suddenly, the crew was being hailed as a flag-bearer in an avant-hop movement that featured Dälek and Cannibal Ox.
All hype aside, with Themselves' The No Music, lyricist Doseone (also in cLOUDDEAD) and producer Jel (also of Deep Puddle Dynamics) take Anticon even farther. Manufacturing gritty hip-hop with an indie-psychedelic bent, the pair concoct an original sound, alternately sinister and soulful.
By the time the thunder of the instrumental opener "Home: Work" bleeds into the surging groove of "Mouthful," it's clear this album is the product of sustained creativity. Doseone's multitracked lyrics -- spit rapidly from the back of his nose or stretched out and sung -- are so tightly fused to Jel's raw beats that it's difficult to listen to the actual words. However, when you do pay attention to the lyrics, it's clear this isn't the usual, third-eye-referencing Anticon record. The chorus of the album's centerpiece, "Good People Check," for instance, goes, "Shove that gun up your ass/You're as good as dead," a sentiment far more hard-core than past spiritual head-noddings. The restless "Paging Dr. Moon or Gun" sounds like Dave Matthews snarling through a bad trip. And on the funky "Dark Sky Demo," Doseone's stuttering delivery drips with malice: "I cut corn, I cut corn and cut throats with the same knife/That's why I wear pants, to wipe blood."
Although Anticon's strategy of pursuing every conceivable collaboration seems like a recipe for diluted noodling, The No Music suggests the young crew just needed a little more time to find, well, Themselves. This milestone release may or may not uncover Anticon's audience, but over time it will mark the point where the collective hit its stride.