Curse Ov Dialect – ‘Crisis Tales’

January 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, January 19, 2010.

Curse Ov Dialect
Crisis Tales

Although some recent auto-tuned evidence might suggest otherwise, hip-hop was always something of a colourful chameleon. Veering points of departure are in its creative DNA – from Bambaataa to the Bomb Squad, Kool Keith to Wu-Tang, Premier to Madlib, Arabian Prince to Anti-Pop. Rap’s first three decades, one might suggest, have seen the genre traverse the kind of musical and referential terrains that rock could only dream of.

On the other hand, Australian hip-hop has proven something of a thorn in progressive rap’s side. While the quality and diversity of domestic product has come on in leaps and bounds, it could be argued that a hefty proportion of the community are still bound be an overarching conservatism and defensiveness. Crews who have dared to expand on the Oz hip-hop aesthetic have found themselves out in the cold.

Costumed, multilingual Melbourne posse Curse Ov Dialect – MCs Raceless, Volk Makedonski, Atarungi, vocalist August 2nd and DJ Paso Bionic – are the prime example. Having existed for over a decade-and-a-half and released two out of their three albums – the abrasive mastery of 2003’s Lost in the Real Sky and the ethno-experimentalism of 2006’s Wooden Tongues – via celebrated US experimental hip-hop imprint Mush, their hyperkinetic brand of international sample collage, punk theatricality and intermittently political and surrealist rap-craft has taken them around the world and built rabid followings in Japan, France, Germany and much of Eastern Europe. Locally, however, their pluralistic, sans-Anglo take on Australian identity, costumes and general craziness has seen them all but cast from the largely white, suburban hip-hop vernacular.

Though it may not change anything, the renegade quintet’s fourth album, Crisis Tales, is unmistakeably hip-hop. And while it clocks in at more than 63 minutes, it’s also their most succinct. From the thumping kick-snare and Persian ritual samples of opener ‘Identity’, this is as much about compact boom-bap as it is worldly obscura. Crisis Tales’ gamut of samples and cultural artefacts belie Curse’s punchiest, neck-straining beats yet. The brilliant ‘Paradigm’ squeezes a Vietnamese karaoke hook and Chinese opera sample into a surging synth pop sketch, while ‘Honesty in Monasteries’ sees Volk spit a rapid-fire verse into a collage of splintered Mediterranean psych and fluttering Cambodian funk.

In fact, there are a slew of highlights. Volk again tears a blistering verse into the springing beat and various psyche flourishes of ‘Conscious Terror’, where the spectral folk of ‘Media Moguls’ offers a gently swaying reprieve. Some of the most engaging moments, however, are when Curse defy the ethnographic sampling for which they’re known, instead daring to delve into darker, more synthesised sonic palettes.

Atarungi’s brooding solo exploration ‘Connection’ is electric, while the subterranean frequencies and musique concrete abrasions of ‘Draindrop’ – which features freakish Japanese MC Kaigen and a black metal-layered, double-tracked verse from Volk – is one of Curse’s most brutal and brilliant statements yet. If that isn’t enough, 11-minute posse track ‘Colossus’ features 32 MCs from countries as far-flung as Poland, Switzerland, Indonesia, Japan, Bulgaria, Poland, Macedonia, Australia and the US.

A lot of credit has to go Danielsan of Koolism, who mixed the record. Curse’s arrangements have far more kick than previous material. While it’s just as far-reaching, Crisis Tales has a shuddering rhythmic consistency that entrenches it deeper into golden era boom-bap than anything Curse have managed before.

It’s an assertion that many in the Australian hip-hop community won’t want to stomach, but if we’re to take the sample-pillaging and socio-politics of Public Enemy, the deranged experimentalism of Kool Keith, or the collective mindset and genre defiance of Afrika Bambaataa as a guide – then throw in five different accents and five unique perspectives – Curse Ov Dialect seem about as legitimate and original as Australian hip-hop gets.

Dan Rule


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