Album Review - Ten by cLOUDDEAD

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Ten by cLOUDDEAD, reviewed by Andy Freeburg


We have a winner! I’m willing to go out on a limb and declare the second cLOUDDEAD full length the album of the year for 2004, based solely on the fact that it’s been the first disc in years to stay in constant rotation. I keep reaching for it, and here are the reasons why:

  • Woozy Flying Saucer Attack samples and beats credited to non-traditional sources like “hitting foam on Yoni’s face”
  • Dense re-readable lyrics
  • Obvious intraband tension during the recording of this album
  • General weirdness
  • General grooviness

Ten is and isn’t a hip-hop album. It’s like every hip-hop record minus the macho posturing, cocksmithery, materialism, blatant sexism, and total stupidity--which is to say that it is NOTHING like any hip-hop record I’ve ever heard.

This is one of those albums that the first time you hear it, you think, “Uh, this is too weird,” and you shelve it. But a week later, you’ll have a splinter of a song in your head, so you reach for it again – and this time, you can’t put it down.

To their credit, cLOUDDEAD lays everything bare in the liner notes. They tell you the tools they used to perform and record every song, the inspirations for the images, their feelings, and their lyrics. It makes for a compelling read and it also serves to pull you into to the cLOUDDEAD universe. There’s a definite DIY spirit at work, and even when you consider the ground they’re treading, a definite lack of pretentiousness.

   This album reeks of creativity and intelligence - making it a mainstream death sentence.

There are a few recurring motifs in this disc: dead dogs (appearing in almost every song), deserts, guns, and insects. They pile up to form a creepy and odd whole. Not the usual hip-hop fodder, the lyrics range from political to abstract and from the creative writing teacher boner-inducing rapid-fire free verse of “Rifle Eyes”:

Have you ever marveled through the pretty pith of your turned around eye at the bug blood gut modern art on the fender of your country crossing rental van?

to the symbolic tear-down of an Oakland Athletics game in “Dead Dogs Two”:

dogs we thought were dead...
rose up when whistled at,
rib cage inflating
like men on the beach
being photographed.
Guard dogs
for what...
against overzealous penniless Athletics fanatics getting into games through a hole in the fence?

Musically, they employ ambient drones, lo-fi beats, booty-crushing bass, fractured samples (one from a tape they found in a thrift store recorded by a kid who had just joined the army before heading off to Vietnam), and odd noise.

This album reeks of creativity and intelligence - making it a mainstream death sentence. Thankfully, the boys recognize this and come out swinging. Ten opens with an indictment of the music industry:

The label stapled a speaker to the back of a sheep’s throat.
Tongue depressor with the width of a spatula suppresses all syllables:
“blah blah blah”, end quote.

Cotton candy...spun any way you like it.

How can I be your lover when you sport a head of rubber?
You can’t take applause to bed with you.
I’ve got my own blood
and a decent depression line.
And then we said “fuck” in our pop song.

This is typical cLOUDDEAD on this album. You get it, sort of, but you keep wondering what else is going on.

There’s a palpable undercurrent of tension in this record. The bio page of the liner notes starts with the declaration “we got in a fight” and concludes with “this has been very emotional. Yoni thinks this is our last record. Adam definitely does not. David remains optimistic.”

And as much as I’d like to hear another release, part of me thinks this was one of those rare recorded magic moments where everything just came together and fell apart at the same time. If this is cLOUDDEAD’s last record, they went out on top.

Mush Records

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