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Alias - The Other Side of the Looking Glass

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Artist: Alias

Album: The Other Side of the Looking Glass

Label: Anticon

Review date: Jul. 2, 2002

The Other Side of the Looking Glass, the epic 2002 first (complete) solo album by anticon’s Alias, is a prose-poetry out-of-body journey down the windowpane of existence, rainwater watching reflections of rainwater doing its thing as it scribes its path across both sides of the world. The samples hum ambient low tones, echoes of David Lynch, maybe Tim Burton at its airy-shinier moments. The drums are a staccato counterpoint, though sometimes they aren’t at all staccato, and sometimes they don’t play a counterpoint; sometimes Alias’s drums pick you up and smash you against things, sometimes they won’t leave your head for days. Overall they’re like nothing else, and closer to perfect I think than any other producer in the indie-hop world today.

The anticon website, in its usual quietly humble tone, has declared Alias the “godfather of goth-hop,” for, one can presume, the darkly brooding nature of The Other Side of the Looking Glass. I would take issue with the name, however—the album is less goth in its modern sense than Gothic in its 19th-century sense, a sort of sonic revisiting of Shelley’s Frankenstein, or perhaps something more in the “American” Poe vein, I’m not sure. Regardless, there is no Marilyn Manson shock-value otherness here; the album is turned inwards throughout, which is where its true brilliance comes out. (On a side note, one to be explored further later in my review of Atmosphere’s godlovesugly, this seems to be the spring of the self for big names in indie-hop: Sage Francis’s Personal Journals, the Atmosphere LP and this album are all obsessively concerned with the “I” of the protagonists/speakers.) The numinous is the term in Gothic literature for the supernatural “Other,” the object of fear that turns the narrative into a “horror story.” In Alias’s world, the numinous and the self are one and the same, a perfect postmodern struggle within the subject, which makes the album both fascinating and, at times, claustrophobic. The Other Side of the Looking Glass is the inside of Alias’s head, and though its ambition is admirable, at times the journey itself is exhausting. The ambient noise/lush-drums dichotomy propels the listener through most of the album, but there are moments where my ear would like to hear more melodic piano of the “Watching Water” sort, something simple to grasp onto, to follow into a more open memory-space.

And of course, Alias wouldn’t be happy to leave it simply as a trip into his own head. Even the album title is turned on itself on the first track (appropriately titled “Begin”), with a loop of someone saying “the other side of the looking glass” backwards as the base of the song, calling into question just exactly who is looking at who through what. Dose-one, the only guest-emcee on the album, returns to this question with Alias on “Opus Ashamed” (first line Alias, second Dose-one, third Alias): “The most frightening things come in pairs of two. / Mirror. / Exactly what I’m saying.” The listener is forced to confront the Other of Alias’s soul with him, which is a Gothic if not a goth experience, but it is certainly an experience of the Are You Experienced? monumental sort, if I can be pardoned the journalistic ego.

In short: get this album, but be prepared for a horror-novel of a hip-hop record. Or, in Alias’s words: “Slug is dreamy.”

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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