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.

Moose-Sonny and Sam

August 27, 2008


Sonny and Sam(Virgin 1992)

During my teenage years, I became obsessed with shoegaze and faithfully trekked to Philadelphia’s 3rd St. jazz and Rock to pick up any ep or cd remotely associated with this poorly named genre. I’m not trying to come off as some precocious wisenheimer since I also purchased albums by 24-7 Spyz, Hoodoo Gurus and 3rd Bass. However, I heard a track from My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything on WKDU and spent by bicycle messenger salary on every NME, Sounds and Melody Maker to search out similar sounds. Through these delightful and sometimes ridiculous rags, I fell in love with Slowdive, Swervedriver, Lush and other bands that adopted MBV as an influence and spun it in their own kaleidoscope of feedback and buried melodies. These three acts among others achieved relative success and are still fondly remembered by fans today. However, there were many worthwhile bands that fell through the cracks or lost their bearings after a brilliant single or ep. England’s Moose definitely fell into the latter category even though they released a few albums afterwards.

Sonny and Sam collected tracks from their first two eps and added a couple odds and ends in the hopes of attracting an American audience. It’s a pretty concise summation of what made them stick out from their peers. Moose’s music adhered to the shoegaze blueprint, but there was something tender and habitually heartbroken about their music that set them apart as the sad sacks of the scene. That’s why I loved them since their romantic odes to butterfly collectors and a lover’s morning gaze appealed to the maudlin side of me. Plus, they knew when to turn off the spigots of feedback and toss in a minimal ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on Sarah or Creation records. They had some diversity and their music wasn’t constantly drugged and distant. Moose wanted to be loved and wallow in noise as well as their alienation and woe. Now, their later albums focused more on the alienation and woe instead of noise and that made them less interesting. Sonny and Sam captures a moment when they didn’t know whether they wanted to be a brit-pop band or something more ragged and intriguing.