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Passage - The Forcefield Kids

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Artist: Passage

Album: The Forcefield Kids

Label: Anticon

Review date: May. 11, 2004

Passage is a member of Anticon, the arty and controversial Bay Area hip-hop collective. Like Anticon's Doseone, Passage often rhymes in tune, changing notes as the chords change. Unlike Doseone, Passage's voice is almost completely bland, and his production isn't nearly as distinctive as that of Jel or Odd Nodsam, with whom Doseone is often associated.

Those things aren't necessarily problems, but unlike many of his Anticon compatriots, Passage can't get by on sound alone. Sound and song aren't mutually exclusive, but Passage tends to be compelling when his songwriting is strong and not particularly interesting when it's off.

The Forcefield Kids is filled with 1980s-style sounds, from the primitive video game-like noises that crop up frequently in the beats, to "Free luv, from left field," the beginning of which sounds like a cross between early industrial music and New York hardcore. Like the music of yet another Anticon associate, Why?, The Forcefield Kids also features a prominent indie rock influence: several songs on the album include casually strummed guitars, and the entire album has an imperfect, lo-fi feel.

Lyrically, Passage drops enough striking observations ("like a Catholic mass, where you sit, stand, sit, shift your weight and shrug") and bizarre plays on words ("the poor sportsmen of the apocalypse") to keep the listener's attention. "The unspectacular whiteboy slave song" boasts one of the year's most memorable, anthemic choruses: "White boys ain't got no slave song / So we invented radiation / Who other than us whitebread shitheads / Would go out and build an H-bomb?") Even so, Passage doesn't offer as much to unpack as there might be on, say, an Aesop Rock album.

But perhaps comparing Passage to such a weighty contemporary is unfair. In interviews, Passage's band Restiform Bodies often deny that what they do is hip-hop at all, and The Forcefield Kids likewise isn't really a hip hop album per se, but a mixture of hip hop and indie rock that depends as much on melody as it does on traditional MCing. When Passage has confidence in his voice and a colorful backing track (as he does on “The unspectacular white boy slave song,” the dreamlike “Poem2thehospital” and the electro-tinged “The kareoki (sp?) kiss ass”), his synthesis of his many influences is convincing.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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