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Record Review: 13 & God’s Own Your Ghost

By / Posted on 16 May 2011

It’s easy for artists to become focused on a single idea or concept. Picasso had his Blue Period. Degas returned to dancers in his paintings time and time again. 13 & God’s sophomore album seems monomaniacally focused on mortality. The phrase “old age” comes up frequently in Own Your Ghost‘s lyrics and, much like he did on their debut with the phrase “tying them off with an x-axis c-clamp and setting them down,” rapper Doseone seems quite pleased here with the turn of phrase “you can’t get the ‘eat’ out of ‘death,’ that spelling is fixed sure as day on a skeleton sets. Both are forever at your neck.”

You can’t blame these visionary experimentalists for contemplating their frail human nature. On a 2005 tour, multi-instrumentalist Dax Pierson was paralyzed from the chest down, leaving him unable to play. Near-death experiences in those close to us get us thinking about our own eventual passings. The beautiful irony is that tragedies bring people closer together, and so 13 & God sound more like a thoughtful and cohesive singular unit than the supergroup mash-up of Oakland hip-hoppers Themselves and Wilheim electronic rockers the Notwist they originally were. Markus Archer’s wistful vocals wrap like silk lingerie around Doseone’s brooding and vengeful raps. Jel’s spontaneous beats and heavy production enhances the Notwist’s focus on tiny sounds as twigs tapping gentle string plucks are elevated to the distorted heights most producers would reserve for bass drums and electric guitars.

Like their 2005 debut, there are still a few tracks that sound distinctly Themselves (“Death Major”) or Notwist (“Old Age”), but overall there is a much greater sense of collaboration, and the entire package benefits greatly. “Beat on Us” is simultaneously pensive and on the attack. “Janu Are” hopscotches between brass hums and choral stabs with a deftness that comes across as both effortless and aggressive. “Unyoung” layers acoustic instruments and samples into a trip-hop obituary, a fitting bit of closure for the wake that is Own Your Ghost.

As an experimental supergroup, 13 & God have always challenged the limits of genre. With this intensely personal session, they may have invented a new subset: goth trip-hop. The end result is a collection of songs that makes the listener think while shaking their hips. It’s almost impossible to not get into the beats collected here, but the atmosphere will transport audiences to a plane not commonly visited by commercial music. There are hundreds of things to find hidden away in the intricate music of Own Your Ghost, but perhaps most interesting is what the music will find hidden away in yourself.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.