The six EPs Dose One, Why? and Odd Nosdam released as cLOUDDEAD earlier this year are best described as passion plays. Obsessing over art school, women, moving to Cincinnati and then to Oakland, and varying states of melancholia, the group’s “movements” – as the six EPs are called – are driven entirely by overlapping verses, words buried in Odd Nosdam’s sonic stew, lyrics spoken backwards, and rhymes sung and spoken in affected, atmospheric voices. Meanwhile, the potpourri of musical styles wielded by Odd Nosdam and guests (Mr. Dibbs, Bay Area Animals) are capable of igniting a useless debate over whether cLOUDDEAD is hip-hop or not. But the project’s most telling moment arrives on “(Cloud Dead Number Five) (Parts 1 and 2)” when, for several minutes, a synthesized orchestra heaves and swells as if it were all a feature film, rather than a stylized exhumation of chapbooks. cLOUDDEAD dramatizes mundane concerns and a worried existence while inflating ego-killing confessions like “There is no difference in the plan of clouds” with world-colliding tragedy. Unfortunately, this hard-won epiphany is grasped over 73 minutes than through a well-written verse or a fine-tuned “movement.” Willfully obscure, Dose One and Why? hide their emotions behind impenetrable images. “I’m leaking into stones and severed existence/I’ve been consumed by my own breath,” observes Dose One on “Apt. A.” Beautiful at times and often challenging, one longs for more lucidity of the kind briefly provided by Sole on “I Promise to Never Get Paint on My Glasses Again,” when he says, “Let’s call it hip hip/You don’t gotta be inner-city or inbred.” While cLOUDDEAD’S avant-rap classic was embraced by IDM/experimental/indie acts like TV on the Radio and Boards of Canada, most rap fans didn’t know what to make of it. Decades later, they still don’t. At the dawn of the 2010s, perhaps inspired by the airy beats of then-hot producer Clams Casino, some listeners tried to reclassify this as “cloud rap.” But that tag seems inappropriate here. Mush.

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