One of the inherent problems that I’ve often encountered when reviewing more underground “difficult” albums is that tricky situation when you’re losing your battle with the deadline and you still can’t rightly decide what you think of it. In the case of Ten, I’ve been torn one way and the other just trying to decide whether I like it or not.
From a purely objective point of view it has plenty going for it; it’s pedigree is well established, the group is a collaborative effort between some of the most consistently inventive artists of the American leftfield hip-hop scene (MCs Why? and Doseone and producer Odd Nosdam), it has the backing of Big Dada, the hip-hop offshoot of Ninja Tune and comes on the back of a series of critically acclaimed EPs and debut LP.
Yet from the first song it’s not an easy ride. Hip-hop may have been the starting point but cLOUDDEAD have long since left its sometimes rigid structures and codes behind. The music is a dense patchwork of tones, glitches and melodies, at times sounding as if they are fighting to get out of the machines and only just making it, bloody and battered, whilst the drums crash along in a Mogadon haze.
The production is great and takes this album about as far from mainstream hip-hop as it’s possible to go. If pushed you might possibly describe the sound coming from the speakers as what would happen if Boards Of Canada were to produce Pavement.
The problem though is that this isn’t an instrumental album and so we have to concentrate on the lyrics. Always rated for their inventive wordplay, Why? and Doseone almost abandon rapping altogether to deliver stream of consciousness dialogues, close harmonies and abstract rhymes. Clever and interesting, no doubt. Engaging, now that’s a different matter.
After a while it all just becomes noise and here lies the rub – it’s grating, annoying noise. If there’s one thing that prejudices me against this album from the start it’s the singers’ / rappers’ voices, a kind of strangulated adenoidal whine that makes listening a chore.
And that, I’m afraid, is that. No amount of clever programming and ocean-deep writing can make up for the fact that as soon as they open their mouths I feel the urgent need to reach for the remote control. In fact it’s a testament to the production and songwriting that I felt compelled to keep repeating the album, convinced that it would grow on me. Sadly it didn’t, and from different vocal chords this could have been one of the highlights of the year so far. This time though, I’m afraid I’ll have to pass.