Alias: Muted

Muted finds Oakland, California native Brendon Whitney aka alias dropping thirteen powerful tracks of hip-hop electronica. As a follow-up to his previous Anticon full-length The Other Side of the Looking Glass and the recent EP Eyes Closed, Muted broadens Whitney's sampling-based palette to include guitars and keyboards. In addition, the heavier rap dimension of his former style has evolved into the predominantly instrumental tracks of Muted. Having said that, alias's latest offers no shortage of voice samples and includes distinctive vocal contributions from Anticon's Pedestrian and The Notwist's Markus Acher.

One hears stylistic traces in Muted of drum-and-bass, dub, and jazz but, of course, the primary allegiances are to electronica and hip hop. The aural evidence suggests that Whitney's listening regimen includes Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin, although many tracks sound closer in spirit and approach to that of Amon Tobin, the primary difference being the greater hip hop dimension of alias's music. Both Tobin and Whitney are distinguished by the exceptional construction skills they exhibit in building their compositionally rich tracks from a vast array of samples and loops. The tracks on Muted encompass an impressively range of styles, all of which Whitney expertly handles with versatility and aplomb. It's also somewhat similar in conception to Prefuse 73's One Word Extinguisher, given that both are expansive travelogues through numerous instrumental and vocal episodes of hip hop-based electronica. However, Muted 's pace is less frenetic, its overall mood generally darker and more melancholy in spite of the massive beats that propel the songs along. In addition, they're longer on Muted, giving alias more time to treat them more exploratively and to exploit their emotional possibilities more fully.

Muted's thirteen tracks (a hidden one making it, in fact, fourteen) evidence an impressive attention to detail and range of contrasts. “Sixes Last,” for example, melds rolling dub accents, flute, and a hip hop beat into a mélange of dark, noirish moods. The instrumentally expansive and sophisticated Tobin-like “Again For the Last Time” deploys searching flutes and piano accents to create a mysterious Eastern mood that becomes more grandly orchestral once the deep beats appear. A huge funk rhythm, chattering percussion, and timpani-like rumblings accompany the slowly unfurling keyboard lines on “Chew the Fat.” “The Physical Voice” finds alias adopting a more conventional hip hop style to support Pedestrian's staccato, declamatory rap, although numerous contrasting episodes of voice samples and pauses disrupt its straightforward flow. And “Unseen Nights” easily could be mistaken for a Notwist track, given its melancholy pop-song form and Acher's lovely multi-tracked vocals.

What distinguishes Muted is that alias doesn't merely create a huge beat that he loops and then rides out for 7 minutes. Instead, any given track moves through moods that are by turns sombre, joyful, cinematic, and mysterious, giving the tracks a compositional and emotional richness that accounts significantly for Muted's superior quality. Even so, no matter how wide-ranging the route alias pursues on a given track, it's Whitney's massive beats—tight, propulsive, heavy, robust, funky, phat—that remain the central foundation.

August 2003