The Cold Vein
Def Jux, 2001
REVIEW BY: Jason Thornberry
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/01/2003
When you're sick to death of So & So running their mouths about how "it's just gonna be all right," or eventually tire of hearing punk as decoded by rednecks/jocks, open up and say aaah to NYC's Cannibal Ox. You'll gain some real otherworldly perspective in the process. But first pull your pants up to your neck, because this river runs deep. There's just no way in hell you'll feel like getting jiggy or shaking your money maker after even three songs off of The Cold Vein.
I listened to this album about five times in a row the other night, and have a major chest cold now to match the sub-zero atmosphere of songs like "Pigeon":
"Birds of the same feather flock together congested on a majestic street corner / That's a short-time goal for most of 'em, 'cuz most of them would rather expand their wings and hover over greater things / That's what we call inspired flight by the pigeons that gotta eat pizza crust every night / And let there be light was understood when a mic stand descended from up above and to the hood / But I've graduated, got my wings, and you've gotta let go of my constructed Lego Eggo waffle halo."
Those lines came courtesy of emcee Vast Aire, so-named because he's one of the few rappers sizeable enough to play professional basketball (that's not including several among the nine-member Wu-Tang Clan). These aren't bogus tales of big pimpin', money countin', or bootie-slappin'. Cannibal Ox are onto some grimy Cyborg thuds that resonate with realism, and are unfit for people who customarily listen to hip-hop to be a vicarious sociopath or a porno star. The thuds arrive via El-P (aka Jamie Meline, formerly of Company Flow), with a personal production style similar to Ennio Morriconne mixed with Masami Akita (Merzbow). Timbaland he's not.
The Cold Vein has been re-issued in an instrumental format, so you can hear the same songs sans vocals, and mixed slightly differently. I don't have it yet, but if the final Company Flow album Little Johnny From The Hospitul, which was devoid of rapping, is any indication, it should be fantastic.
Fresh from Def Jux, which is the new label Meline put together in response to the nightmare that was Rawkus Recordings, Cold Vein is (sort of) the precursor to Fantastic Damage, El-P's exquisitely long-awaited solo album. Def Jux has bragging rights to new material by Aesop Rock, RJD2, Camu Tao, Atoms Family, Masai Bey, Y@k Ballz, and several others you've unfortunately probably never heard of. You can start with Cold Vein, Enters The Colossus by Mr. Lif, and then I'd recommend Fantastic Damage. The Cannibal Ox track "Ridiculoid" was originally meant for that particular album.
Rappers Vast and Vordul Megilah spin misshapen allegories on Cold Vein, and use imagery more punk than punk has ever been capable of (especially now). Don't believe me? Go on the web and download an MP3 of "A B-Boys Alpha." You'll laugh quietly for a split second, and then be thankful that nobody heard you. The only time I can think of a drums/guitar/bass/vocal combo getting anywhere near the disturbing vibe of that track was in 1978 when the Misfits released a single called "Bullet."