Sole & The Skyrider Band - Hello Cruel World Album Review
Anticon, the alternately celebrated and derided indie-rap collective of which Sole was a founder member and key musical contributor, have a lengthy mission statement on their website. It's an impassioned summary of their aesthetic; it's principled, and it's disdainful. It ends with the following sentence: 'Suffice it to say it is 2004, and we find ourselves in the half-twenties of strange lives, in the middle of a unfathomable world, and we are grateful for company: future friends, listeners, and artists alike'. In a way, it's a sentence that clarifies Sole's decision to leave Anticon prior to the release of this album. It's no longer 2004, he's no longer in his mid-twenties, and he doesn't sound like he much to be grateful for on Hello Cruel World.
It's not 2004, and the trademark Anticon sound - abstract, spaced out, difficult to take in - is no longer Sole's sound. This album is more accessible than his past efforts. At times, it's catchy. 'We Will Not Be Moved', for instance, features a genuinely rousing, sung chorus, albeit a sarcastic one: 'We will not be moved/Comfortable with apathy and mediocrity/The truth is too unpleasant for me'. Sole's raps are easier to follow than before; less out-there, more focused. The Skyrider Band, meanwhile, drape unsubtle (and sometimes uncomfortably garish) synthesised melodies over every track.
For all that, this isn't especially accessible music: Sole isn't interested in recreating the musical journey his former labelmate Why? made on the sprightly and surprising indie-pop record Alopecia. On tracks like 'Home Ain't Shit' the beats still crash and pile-up against your speakers, and Sole himself is still angry. Angry (in a slightly unfocused way) with the US government, angry with people who aren't angry with the government. Angry with his dad, for making him angry: 'self-made man, nobody gave me shit too/except my addict father, thanks for the anger issues'. He's still coming up with great rhymes too, lines like 'my name rings bells and burns bridges', and 'you don't want to battle me/you're better off enlisting in the upcoming war against China'.
He throws out the occasional cringe-worthy lyric as well, and that's not the album's only problem. The potentially interesting guest appearances (Xiu Xiu! Lil B!) underwhelm. Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart adds some trademark melodrama to 'Napoleon', but his quavering chorus sits awkwardly with the rest of the track, while Lil B is the least interesting thing about the oddball synth-fest 'Bad Captain Swag'. The album's beats sometimes sound curiously flat; too predictable, perhaps even too Anticon, despite The Skyrider Band's best efforts. Their synthesisers-with-everything approach will also be divisive. An uneven record, then, but at the very least a step away from the too-comfortable sounds of 2004.