• Alias & Tarsier
  • Anticon
  • 2006-05-15

So anyway, I was in a MySpace forum the other day when I started chatting about hip-hop to this girl. Naturally, I said I still rated ‘Biggie’. She said, no one had bettered Tupac’s “Hit-Em Up” for straight up shitting in a fellow rapper’s face and that she was never quite sure Biggie recovered from that. Fair point, I thought. Checking through this girl’s file, I noticed she did vocals in some cinematronic duo called Healamonster and Tarsier, her being Tarsier. I also noticed she looked pretty cute, so not really bothered about Biggie I casually said that I was a producer for Anticon and had released my own album in 2003. So hey, wouldn’t it be fun to like record an album even though we lived thousands of miles apart and had never seen or met each other… like crazy. She said the picture of my dogs on my own MySpace were funny and she asked me if I always wore sunglasses. She also said, yeah my idea would be cool – you send me the beats and I’ll do the vocals.

Alias and Tarsier apparently got working together through a fluke email and like the above suggests recorded their respective roles for Brookland/Oaklyn without meeting or even knowing the other. A little faceless, a little soulless you might suggest, or was this the seed for a global, boundary breaking, genre defineless, meeting of two fractured musical selfs?

…with production pretty funkless and majorly laptop and Tarsier’s vocals icy, hushed, icy, hushed and fairly unimpassioned.

What emerges on Brookland/Oaklyn is a little less intense than either the former or the latter of those descriptions and well, a bit Bjork sounding. Alias has previous for his own 2003 debut album Muted, that consisted of a mixture of downbeat production and ambient under/overtones as well as collaborations with a variety of musicians including Ben Gibbard, Lali Puna, Sage Francis and Will Oldham. Pretty diverse. Ben Gibbard (Postal Service) and Lali Puna are clues towards the sound of Brookland/Oaklyn which continues on from the mood of Alias’s Muted and replicates similar spaced out sounds to Postal Service and Lali Puna — particularly when Tarsier is more prominent — together with some sharply cut beats courtesy of the Anticon tradition. The suggestion here might be that this is a curry with everything in it but it doesn’t take long for us to notice that the Brookland/Oaklyn seems to be suffering from RS syndrome, with production pretty funkless and majorly laptop and Tarsier’s vocals icy, hushed, icy, hushed and fairly unimpassioned. Opener “Cub”, sets the tone for the album and a tone that er, never actually changes. Essentially a mixture electronic chamber pop and trip hop, “Cub” is built upon a muted slow moving beat and piano chords that nod towards Four Tet, as Tarsier records her hushed ethereal garnered vocals that at times, particularly on “Cub” sound extremely close to Bjork. However, whereas Bjork throughout her career has continuously played with pitch, nuance and even genre moods such as the musical, Tarsier’s voice remains continuously the same sluggish tempo and icy deliverance throughout. Not to say Tarsier’s voice sucks, it’s just that the indifference towards the beats or mood of songs or even for the lyrics for that matter, means that it quickly becomes boring, and partly induced by the icy delivery, pretty vacuous. Alias is partly to blame here. With Tarsier’s vocals providing such a calm and steady foreground to most of the songs, the production calls for extremities that might provide some ridiculously fucked up beats or at least a little melody or funk that might create a different edge to the sound of this album. Alias does neither, instead repeating the sobriety of the soft electronica behind “Cub” virtually throughout. At times, Alias does introduce the occasional glitch and stunted DJ Shadow-style beat that are impressive in execution but you’ve also heard them within this genre of chilled trip hop and sombre ambience a million times before.

beats sound so maddeningly innocuous

“Last Nail” sounds like Madonna when she was working with William Orbit, through its use of blissful big beats and classical sounding piano chords and is nevertheless soothing and this soothing aspect, forgetting any real need for stimulus, is what might attract people to the album as a whole. And yet, there is soothing where one is opened up into an ambient ‘otherworld’ and then there is soothing that simply locks you off from your surroundings. Brookland/Oaklyn tends to induce the latter. Personally, I have my coma with coffee and tea and it tastes a lot better when Alias steps up to emcee midway through the aforementioned “Last Nail”. Alias manages to inject a well-needed push and aggression to the song and makes you wonder why he doesn’t emcee more on the album. Likewise on “Luck and Fear”, Doesone raps robotically through a voicecoder giving the song a real punch that together with the for once frenetic beats and various samples makes “Luck and Fear” one of the standouts on the album.

This is a curious record, not just in the roots of its recording process but from the subjects Tarsier chooses to sing about in such a disconnected way to — a young child’s unhindered love for life (“Cub”), illegal immigrants (“Picking the Same Lock”) etc, to the way beats sound so maddeningly innocuous. I’m sure both Alias and Tarsier will go on to bigger and better things following this project- it’s easy to distinguish their respective talents when displayed — it’s just that the album in general only seems to offer a case of communication breakdown.

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