Release Date: Aug 30, 2011
Record label: Anticon
Genre(s): Rap, Underground Rap, Left-Field Hip-Hop
It’s been over a decade since Alias’ (Brendon Whitney’s) masterful debut with Deep Puddle Dynamics. It’s been slightly under a decade since he emceed, (mostly) solo, on The Other Side of the Looking Glass. It’s been eight years since he turned instrumental, or Muted, as he calls it. Portland (ME) to Oakland and back again: Resurgam.
There’s always more going on with Alias than can at first be heard or described. 2008’s Resurgam, one of the strongest albums of the decade, felt a little like it could have been made by Four Tet on indie-drugs. The album’s tuneful instrumental tracks, plus collaborations with fellow Anticon founder Yoni Wolf (of Why? fame) and The One Am Radio were masterful, listenable, and, above all, catchy.
In the late 1990s, the anticon. collective emerged as a unique label dedicated to bursting the boundaries of what could be reasonably considered hip hop: Battle freestyles reconstructed as abstruse beat poetry, hip hop production smeared into ambient drone, rap cadences and phrasings bent to indie folk ends. They were leaders with, at first, few followers.
Aptly titled, Fever Dream builds on the welcoming and positive vibrations left-field hip-hop producer Alias explored on his 2008 effort, Resurgam. Here, that album’s sound is blown up into an Orb-sized dream world, starting with off-world voices on “Goinswimmin” that give way to bleeps and a slowly rolling backbeat. Voices drift in and out of this primarily instrumental effort with vocalist Dax Pierson living up to the dream title “Talk in Technicolor,” while female vocal samples are run through a giant echo chamber for the distant and beautiful “Lady Lambin’.
Brendon Whitney, founder of indie and weirdo hip-hop label Anticon, has a prolific production career as Alias, proffering a kind of old-school-indebted, lush hip-hop independent from chunky L.A. beat styles. His debut album The Other Side of the Looking Glass was full of old-school leaning hip-hop spelled out in dusty sampled breaks, but by the time we got to his fourth and latest solo album, 2008's Resurgam, rich synth sounds and gorgeous melodies had begun to subsume the percussive frameworks.
It was only when listening to Fever Dream for the final time before starting to write this review that I realised what an incredibly appropriate name it is. Whilst dreamy and ethereal in its chilled, electronic sound, the latest album by Maine-based hip-hop artist and producer Alias has a feverish element that runs throughout; an underlying feeling of unrest brought about by dark, distorted samples and some devilishly wicked beats. The opening track, Goinswimmin, sets the mood for the album perfectly.
It is unfortunate for [a]Alias[/a] that he is so closely linked to the highly regarded Anticon label and the ever-changing world of underground hip-hop. In that context, this album, for all its undoubted charms, sounds like a record that is behind the times. [b]‘Fever Dream’[/b] sees him desert the boom-bap quantized beats for which he has become known in favour of post-[a]Flying Lotus[/a] lolloping percussion and woozy sample collages.
Seldom has an album been so aptly titled. Fever Dream isn’t so much a record as it is a delirious aural hallucination, one that will feel like a reverie that you can’t quite pin down. Songs don’t start or end but bleed into each other, changing moods seamlessly but capriciously. By the time it’s over, you may not be sure that you can remember all of it but you’ll want to recapture as much of it as you can.