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Artist: Cannibal Ox
Album: Cold Vein
Label: Def Jux

Fresh from the new underground empire of Def Jux (formed when El-P left Rawkus) comes Cannibal Ox and their latest release "Cold Vein". Sounding more like a 15-track stream of consciousness than a typical hip-hop release, "Cold Vein" is one of those albums that's sure to be heartily ignored by the clubhoppers and discussed widely by the emcee connoisseurs for months to come. It's even a safe bet that it might show up on some of their "… of 2001" lists.

"Cold Vein" is damned underground even for an underground album. Cannibal Ox were clearly on a mission to deliver their particular vision of hip-hop, no matter how distinct or alienating. The composition of the album is very dark to start with, almost recalling the hollow soundscapes of Radiohead, albeit in a very satisfying breakbeat form. The musical background thumps and loops ominously throughout, rising towards peaks and then falling into distortion. Up to the task of lyrically matching such complex arrangements are emcees Vast Aire and Shamar. Both manage to bring such a consistent and wordy flow that it will easily take the most initiated listener a few listens to catch AND understand what was laid down. Their subjects tend to stay grounded, but the delivery can be almost ethereal at times.

You may already realize that "Cold Vein" isn't something that's going to be bumped in the clubs this summer… short of some really sentimental DJ who gives props to Def Jux artists. It's a more cerebral effort than some might be used to, and frankly demands more patience than some might have. And to bring a double-edged sword to the table, it's the songs where they relax a little where "Cold Vein" starts to lag some. It's not a completely fair assessment; to expect them to keep up the same energy of opening track "Iron Galaxy" for such a long time might be more than any artist can really manage. "The F Word", a love track, for example, sounds a bit out of place and doesn't really add anything to the album. On the other hand, the near constant dark mood of the album could be more than some hip-hop listeners can take.

Approach "Cold Vein" with a completely open mind, then. It's a lot to take in, but is expertly constructed and obviously done with a lot more attention to detail than much of today's hip-hop. This isn't Cannibal Ox's definitive word, and they still have room to move. More for the intent listener than for the hip-hop weekender, "Cold Vein" demands attention and rewards it nicely.

-- Maurice Downes

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