Thursday, December 21, 2006
Subtle--For Hero: For Fool (2006)
Album-For Hero: For Fool
Release Date-Oct 3, 2006
Genre/Style-Alternative Rap/Experimental Rock/Underground Rap
Biography-Formed in 2001 when Amoeba Music record store employees and musicians Jel (Jeffrey Logan) and Doseone (Adam Drucker) — who already made up the Anticon band Themselves — started playing with Dax Pierson, clicking almost instantly. Soon they invited woodwind player Marty Dowers, guitarist Jordan Dalrymple, and cellist Alexander Kort — all of whom Pierson had previously played with — to join the group, and Subtle (with Jel on percussion, Pierson on keys and autoharp, among other instruments, and Doseone on vocals) were born. After a couple of 12" releases and some EPs, A New White was released on Lex Records in 2004. Tragedy struck the band in February the next year when their tour van slipped on black ice, paralyzing Pierson from the chest down. Still, Subtle pushed forward, issuing the remix and collaboration EP Wishingbone in 2006 and signing to EMI, which released the group's sophomore full-length, For Hero: For Fool — which included vocal and harmonica work from Pierson — in conjunction with Lex later that same year.
Review-Part experimental rock, part electronica, and part hip-hop, Subtle's For Hero: For Fool is a complex, innovative, sometimes bizarre, and usually utterly confusing journey into the minds of lyricist Doseone and his five bandmates. The album weaves its way through stories of a hero whose identity — "another white rapper?" A member of the "middle class?" — although never made explicit, acts as the Everyman in 21st century, post-industrial America. Life is bleak here, full of "guerillas" and other monkeys, of violence and hypocrisy and a slave-like adherence to money. Not every line is completely coherent, even if it's well-enunciated, because there is a great concern with strange and abstract imagery rather than straightforward, comprehensible phrases ("Darwin's bones/Wheeled on the hook to the edge of a cumulus cloud" goes one line in "Nomanisisland"), but the overall effect, the intent of the band, is still very much felt and very much understood. Hollow drums, live, electronic, and beatboxed — the latter coming from Dax Pierson, who was injured while touring with Subtle in early 2005, rendering him paralyzed from the chest down — fold and mix with twisting guitar and synth riffs; the album as a whole a testament to the dangers of urbanity. It's a criticism of man himself and the environment he's created. "The Mercury Craze," the most structured of all the tracks with a catchy, club-ready hook (minus the lyrics: "It seems so few would know just what to do as the new and improved lucky you,/To be courted and prized as someone else's very own personal blood mine" might kill the buzz on the dancefloor) and a sparse, clean beat, questions how far we might go to prolong our lives, but even the songs that are less tangible in their analysis ("Call to Dive," "A Tale of Apes I" and "II") still, through their intensity and sense of purpose, get their points across well. The future looks grim, no matter which way you look at it, and Doseone's distinct, nasally vocals, which switch from sung to rapped to spoken, don't do anything to lighten the mood. It's as if he's sneering at you, sneering at everyone who's ever uttered a word or done anything, sneering at himself for being human, too; it could come off as condescension, but since he's including himself among the perpetrators it just seems like bitter irony and pessimism instead. We're all the ones who've made this mess, and we're all the ones who have to live with it, and though it may end up being dirty, at least we've got ourselves, and Subtle, to suffer together with.