The Mouse & The Mask
I’ll admit it: I came to the MF Doom party late. I was sure he was another MC from the Kool Keith school of rappers so weird their rhymes don’t have to rhyme. But then I took a chance on his collaboration with Madlib, Madvillainy, and though initially I was a little unimpressed, I’ve grown to love the album’s campiness, its warm sounding samples and, most of all, Doom’s bizarre but brilliant rhymes. So when I heard about a collaboration between Doom and producer Danger Mouse (best known for his genius Beatles-Jay-Z mash-up The Grey Album), I couldn’t wait to hear it. And then when I heard the album was going to be a joint release with Cartoon Network’s absurdist cartoon block “Adult Swim,” I was even more excited to hear how the album was going to turn out. One of the first songs to leak onto the internet was “The Mask,” a song from Dangerdoom featuring Ghostface Killah from the Wu-Tang Clan. It’s easily the album’s coolest song. Rapping over a crazy horn break, Doom and Ghostface kick ridiculous flows, with Doom rhyming more weird non-sequiturs like “Stuff happens, like getting snuffed for tit-rappin'” and Ghostface describing “his all brain all numb” like he “ate a thousand icies and frozen Pepsis.” Other highlights include “Old School” featuring Talib Kweli, with both him and Doom taking the rap world to task for equating selling crack and getting shot with lyrical skill, and “Sofa King,” with its violin beat and middle school refrain of “I am Sofa King, We Todd Ded.” Throughout the album, Danger Mouse drops funky cinematic beats, but too often his production just sounds like a new school version of Prince Paul, though Prince Paul’s sample-everything aesthetic is sorely missing from today’s hip-hop. The album’s biggest flaw is that it’s bound to alienate non-“Adult Swim” fans. There are samples of “Adult Swim” shows all over the album, and at least two of the songs are actually about specific cartoons. Since I’m a huge fan, especially of the underrated show “Tom Goes to the Mayor,” the samples didn’t bother me, but they’re bound to drive people who dislike the humor of “Adult Swim” absolutely nuts.
When my daughter was born, the Clientele’s The Violet Hour was the soundtrack that greeted her. Not the atrocious Putumayo “world music lite” CDs the mid-wife and her cronies kept slipping in to “get things funky, girl,” but the dreamy, psychedelic echo chamber that is Alasdair MacLean’s voice. I am always going to love this band for that. With Strange Geometry, MacLean comes in fine form. His lyrics seem more self-confident and his imagery more focused than ever. The thing about the Clientele, like any good pop-psychedelic musicians, is their ability to focus on one image. They wander all over, but they can always find a detail, something tangible to focus on, to ground you with. Before with the Clientele it seemed random and almost accidental when it happened, but on Strange Geometry everything is done with purpose. And while I miss the ambiguity, MacLean’s confident narrative is so well crafted, so moving and trippy, it more than compensates.