First Look: New Sole & the Skyrider Band LP

 

Released this week on Fake Four,
Tim Holland’s
Hello Cruel World is
relentlessly bleak and angry – and strong stuff.

 

By Jennifer Kelly

 

Hello Cruel World  is Tim Holland’s third album as Sole and the
Skyrider band, but  his first after
ending an 11 year association with Anticon, the label he founded in the early
1990s with Pedestrian (James Brandon Best). Artist-owned Anticon has been a
mainstay of independent hip hop over its decade plus of existence, nurturing
artists like Why?, Doseone, Odd Nosdam, Alias and Themselves and creating a
platform for frequent collaboration among its members. Yet by 2010, Holland found himself “increasingly
at odds with the business end of Anticon and began doing more DIY work via
soleone.org.” A digital age had made labels, however well-intentioned,
obsolete, he maintained in a farewell statement.  He was going “DIY … the industry is D.I.E.,”
he proclaimed in “DIY.”  

 

Hello Cruel World tracks Holland’s dissatisfaction
with the business of music making in intensely literate, musically evocative
style.  In the first track alone, the
jaw-dropping “Napoleon,” he manages to reference George Orwell, Bob Dylan,
Thomas Hobbes, the film High Noon,
all the while making a desperate last stand for artistic integrity. “I’m a lawn
mowing man, fighting astro-turf,” he observes,” and I don’t mind at all, my
blade don’t dull, my name rings bells and burns bridges, the industry hates me
cos I’m still eating.” The instrumentation here is sparse but dramatic, minimal
drum beats, echoing voices, blasts of synthetic keyboards, creating a cavernous
space to surround Holland’s
words.

 

Roughly a quarter of the way through, the piece breaks for Xiu Xiu’s
instrumental hook, a lush, emotive complement to Sole’s burnt-to-the-ground
bitterness. It is here that we make the connection to Animal Farm‘s message, jumping from record-industry malfeasance to
a more general observation that all revolutions are doomed. Napoleon, as you
might remember, was the porcine stand-in for Stalin, the one who turned the
animal uprising into a power grab and ended up not much better than the humans
overthrown. The point is made subtly, and just in the hook, as Xiu Xiu croons,
“Like a pig who can talk and say I am a fool, I can eat you, because you’re
just a pig.”  

 

“Napoleon” is the album’s clear high
point, but other tracks – “DIY”, “We Will Not Be
Moved” and the blistering “Possimism” – are nearly as good. Holland collaborates with a variety of
artists, both expected (Sage Francis, Pedestrian, Fake Four co-head Ceschi) and
unexpected (Pictureplane).  Live playing
by the Skyrider band, which includes Bud Berning, William Ryan Fritch, John
Wagner, lends a density and excitement to the proceedings. Holland’s intricate rhymes may be the initial
point of entry, but you quickly realize that the musical arrangements are
nearly as subtle and complex. 

 

 

This is not a feel-good album. A palpable sense of anger – at the music
industry, at politicians, at the war machine, at the lack of universal health
care, at damned near everything – hangs over the proceedings like a dirty fog.
Lyrical moments, the gentle, melodic observation that “I started as a cell/now
I’m a planet losing planet status,” from “Formal Designation 134340” are widely
separated.

 

And yet, how sharply Holland
expresses his rage, how clearly his disappointment reveals betrayed idealism.
The world is a dark and greedy place, run by idiots and criminals, and Holland’s just reporting
what he sees when he says, “You say I’m pessimistic, as if I’m out of
touch/take a look around/I ain’t pessimistic enough.”  Strong stuff. 

 

 

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