Chris Donaghey
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April 20, 2006
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Soft Money

Anticon artists have long seemed rather proud of their reputation for being the voice of intelligent underground hip-hop. Whenever I've heard a release by any of their beatsmiths or rhyme slingers, I have had the utmost respect for the abstract instrumentation and/or wordplay that makes me run to Webster's. As of late, though, the hip-hop community has been getting more attention than ever. This newfound interest makes each subsequent Anticon release either a feather in their hat or a shot-in-the-dark homage to grounds that have already been broken. Jeffrey "Jel" Logan's latest release, Soft Money, plucks more feathers than splits hairs.

Upper class electronica and ethereal beats meet lower-middle class politics and downtempo instrumentation on this inventive release. Jel has taken verbal cues from Buck 65 and mixed them with pinches of Amon Tobin, Tricky, and Dummy-era Portishead. Sounds sexy? Well, for the most part, it is. "All Around" allows absolutely angelic song from Steffi Bohm (Ms. John Soda) to duck in and out of slinky soundscapes. It is a song you'd want to play in the bedroom if you were trying to convince that special someone that hip-hop isn't all about bitches, blunts, and sexually transmitted rigamarole. "All Day Breakfast", one of the album's strongest tracks, allows piano samples to drift weightlessly above stormy undercurrents. I'm led to believe that if the track had vocals, it might descend into darkness at breakneck speed. Even a song with a title like "Trashin'" has unctuous undertones that play to a darker side of your mind like a "No Tresspassing" sign to a junior high kid.

Now, I did qualify the attractive nature of the soundscapes by saying "for the most part," so I'll approach the rest. There are moments of political turmoil that surface among the beautiful rubble. "To Buy A Car" is extremely blatant, criticizing capitalism/jingoism (the first words of the album are 'Don't buy this product/You don't need it') as a first track on an album he would probably like to sell. The beats are strong, but the samples are grating..and you get the sense that it's intentional. The first single here, "WMD," goes as far as to sample Jello Biafra's liberal incantations over bludgeoning melodies. In theory, it should work well, but it sounds akin to a trip-hop Collison Course.

"Nice Last" and "Chipmunk Technique" end our affair on surprisingly telling notes. The former creates a seance to channel Boards of Canada while the latter lays down a sweet beat only to let inane helium vocals materialize out of the ether. These songs poignantly illustrate the point that Jel's music works best when delivered straight with no chaser. It is a hip-hop release that expands into the stratosphere when the actual music is left to its own devices. It may not always get your clothes off, but it has the potential to let you drift off to dreamlike places where anything is possible. Whether or not you love those wild Anticon boys, Soft Money is an inventive statement from one of today's true sampling prodigies.

Release date: February 28, 2006
Label: Anticon
Rating: 7.6 / 10