October 1998 – EP reviews – The Isolationist’s ‘Hydrogen Slush’ (“this bleak, rolling, night-time piece of vinyl”)

27 Oct

The Isolationist: 'Hydrogen Slush'

The Isolationist: ‘Hydrogen Slush’

Beats go postal these days. Released by a small British label, The Isolationist is a project uniting American rappers (New York’s elusive Anti Pop Consortium) with producers from London (DJ Primecuts) and London-via-Russia (DJ Vadim); a company of strangers rather than a posse. Perhaps this explains why, by hip-hop standards, it carries a strange chill with it. The rappers fire off into clear, chiming, deathly voids as if they’re carving out the insides of giant floating ice-cubes with the warmth of their breath and the crackle of their thoughts.

There isn’t a comforting funk loop to be found anywhere on this bleak, rolling, night-time piece of vinyl: just the thinnest iciest slivers of the coolest, most spartan jazz, the sidewalk-pounding beats, and the feel of sound slipping back off chrome and concrete. The nod to electronica’s near-autistic Isolationism movement ain’t a hollow one, either. The DJs scratch in their snatches of old-school records and kung-fu soundtracks with the efficiency and flair of unsmiling master butchers. Their beats are audibly frosted; their backdrops are an unfriendly cliff of minimal tonal touches that seems to gaze down at the rappers as if to say “Show me…”. Collaboration may be challenge, but this one’s more of a staring match.


 
Held up against R’n’B’s e-e-easiness or the violent tag-team dynamics of Wu-Tang-style hardcore, The Isolationist’s modus operandi strikes an intriguingly perverse note – an implied, introverted refusal of cooperation, of support or brotherhood; an alliance of denial. Set against this is the feverishly lyrical excellence of the Anti Pop Consortium: criminally absent from hip-hop’s compilation industry, and perhaps best known in Britain for linkups with Vernon Reid, with Moa and with Attica Blues.

We only get two of them here – Beans and Priest (M. Sayid’s opted to sit this round out) – but for guys spirited out of the city that never sleeps and into Vadim’s glacial dream-darkness, they’re coping well; reeling out cunning, multi-levelled raps like levitating, metaphysical Last Poets on fast-forward, lit by flashes of black science and prophecy, and more likely to namedrop Stephen Hawking than Stagger Lee. And they make their position in hip-hop culture clear, boasting “bombs like voluptuous brown big breasts” and chucking their word-games of empowerment and enlightenment into the silence at the gangsta rap funerals, apparently in the hopes of shaking up a lasting, blooming, conscious golden age.


 
Pitted against cultural sickness, the A.P.C. are powerful antibodies. On B-side Timeless Void, Priest scorns the inadequacy of “MCs’ band-aids for bullet-holes / under an umbrella for nuclear fallout from toxic water-balloons… / Your flatness and one-dimensional portrayal / is a betrayal / of my legacy” Urging us to “feel free to escape your entrapment: rapwards! / Over your head, hard to catch, like a bouquet made of thorns on a course for the laws of sentiment” he hits prophetic highs with “build and destroy again, restart civilisation from an amoeba / firm believer in perceiving extra-sensory signals, / my insignia the inscription in the clouds at dusk / – the fall of man…”


 
For Hydrogen Slush itself, Beans slams down the gauntlet with a staggering set of rhymes to scatter light across the wounds on black America’s soul. Some are metaphysical (“your ears are my punching-bag”); some earthy (“a hustla turned horsemeat / befitted the amoeba in a spit-puddle”). Some are poetically ominous – “sunbathing without an ozone layer / the sense you’re burning ants under glass. / UV suffering – no reason to go on, a desire to be by the beating wings but their arms are tired” – and some are consumed by a rage against the breakdown of the spirit: “these things sink deep into the flesh of the tormented: / unity of the ego is shattered, / indiscriminate sensibility debilitated by the winners of impending emptiness”. His words land righteous hyper-literate blows on the nihilistic greed of playa-culture. As cultural champions, they obviously feel there’s more to success than just buying it. Behind them, though, the cold cityscape rolls on.

This EP is like a graffiti artist rolling up his sleeves in front of a cold, stark-white wall, and launching an explosive artistic assault with a bagful of sharp colours. Motormouth MCs versus stonewaller DJs; quick tongues versus clenched teeth; involved dialogue up against cold silences The Isolationist is a bizarre marriage which looks like it’ll lead to some compelling arguments. You’ll find me next door, eavesdropping.


 
The Isolationist: ‘Hydrogen Slush’
Jazz Fudge Recordings, JFR012 (5030433001263)
10-inch vinyl-only EP
Released:
26th October 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) original vinyl EP best obtained second-hand. Some tracks are downloadable or streamable from Bandcamp and Spotify
The Isolationist online:
MySpace Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Spotify Amazon Music

Anti Pop Consortium online:
Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Amazon Music

DJ Vadim online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music

DJ Primecuts online:
Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Deezer Pandora Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

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