Cannibal Ox-The Cold Vein

January 30, 2009

Cannibal Ox

The Cold Vein (Def Jux 2001)

Most of our musical tastes veer far from the realm of our teenage years. Mine were spent listening to Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B and Rakim amongst lesser lights like 3rd Bass, Two Live Crew and even MC Hammer. Just like many of you have disowned past loves of pop-punk detritus, disposable grunge and twee atrocities, I buried my love of hip-hop in a file occupied by Kings X, Belly and DJ Shadow. However, there were a few hip-hop albums that defrosted my frigid affections and sparked a momentary love of a genre which fueled the hormonal angst of my youth. Dr. Octagon, Company Flow and Cannibal Ox gripped me for different reasons, but they pushed my lil’ tootsies back into the water. Sadly, the water was cold and devoid of much life, but Cannibal Ox’s Cold Vein remains one of the few hip-hop albums that speaks to me on a lyrical and sonic level. Before anyone gets their panties in a knot, hip-hop feels as natural as pickles on my pillow. Shit just doesn’t work for me. Apologies to all who cuddle with foodstuffs.

I haven’t heard this in years and some of it doesn’t hold the test of time, but much of it is so misanthropic, dense and alien that it makes me feel uneasy. In many ways, it reminds me of the dissonance and unpleasantness of New Kingdom’s Paradise Don’t Come Cheap, minus the incessant sampling of stoned riffs. “Raspberry Fields” is ironically titled since its mass of stuttering beats, percolating synths and discussions of cannibalism and disembowelment stand in stark contrast to any discussions of peace, love and understanding. Actually, the lyrics are kind of silly, but the production and delivery are pretty epic and unsettling. The reverberating guitar riff kind of reminds me of a bastardized Butthole Surfers riff circa Locust Abortion Technician. I’m also a big fan of “Pigeon” which is so stripped down and bare that its substitution of a pigeon for a phoenix rising from the ashes seems somehow apt instead of ridiculous. Their pigeon fights its way to the heavens, but is dragged down by forces beyond its control. For some reason, I find the imagery affecting since the pigeon was kind of the grubby mascot of my North Philly upbringing. There is something so sad about identifying with a pigeon as a totem animal that I find the whole song depressing and devastating in a small way.

There are no climaxes, booty calls or rags to riches stories to be found in their tales. The stark production and bleak worldview give birth to memories of those times when the party is over, no one is home to welcome you and the morning promises little in the way of salvation.