Dusted Reviews

Pole - Pole

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Pole

Album: Pole

Label: Mute

Review date: Jul. 16, 2003

Another Hip Hop Crossover

Hip hop production must have seemed so much more convenient to Pole (Stefan Betke). Since the late-90s, the Berlin-based dub artist and ~scape label-owner has made electronic music that implies far more than it speaks. Listening to the albums commonly known as "Red," "Blue," and "Yellow," one almost expects a plaque on the nearest wall, explaining the various subtexts and ideas inherent in the work. The Pole project is about montage, suggestion, the very x-rays of dub and techno…if it were about beats, you would hear it, no one would have to tell you.

On the other hand, hip hop means never having to explain what you're doing. On his new self-titled album, which is the culmination of a recent direction hinted at on two EPs (45/45 and 90/90), Pole concedes center stage to a rapper from Ohio named Fat Jon (not to be confused with Fat Joe from the South Bronx). Fat Jon is contemplative and easy going, while Pole contributes a reduced version of his usual dub-inflections, now available in hip hop form, to linger in the background with more quietude than subtlety. If Fat Jon has much range, there's no way to know it from this record. His rhymes are timid, and his voice has no presence. By all accounts, Pole was correct to move on to a new idea after five years, so thoroughly had he completed his exploration of dub as the byproduct of abstract sound, but this new album values simplicity over substance. The idea is immediately self-explanatory: chill hip hop rhythms mix well with a cerebral, patient MC.

But the whole of it seems passive and incomplete. For several albums, Pole had a challenging and worthy idea. Dub could be minimalized even more than the Basic Channel releases suggested. Central elements like bass and delay could be insinuated, and yet felt as though they were really present. Pole might have brought a similar model to bear on his experiment with hip hop, but instead we're left with a collection similar to the numerous failed crossover attempts made by techno artists.

Ignoring the rapping for just a moment (which is difficult, since that's the point of the album, but nevertheless…), there are significant alterations to Pole's usual musical approach. Retracted are the crackles and suggestive whispers of sound that formed dense layers beneath whatever else was going on. Added are recognizable (and credited) acoustic instruments, most notably the upright bass and saxophone. Both changes can be OK. On instrumental songs like "Bushes (there is a secret behind)," the sax works really well, and the song might be the best on the album. On the non-instrumentals, however, the sax and the beats fade whimpering into the ether. Even listening closely to the instrumentation reveals less than expected. MCs and producers should complement each other, but here their presence is mutually exclusive.

On Pole, Pole misses a golden opportunity to do something interesting with hip hop by taking essentially the same route as Mouse on Mars, Shake, and others who have briefly dabbled in the surprisingly impenetrable genre. Had Pole treated hip hop with the same reverence that he treats dub, he might have made something more complex. Rather, Pole making Pole is like an athlete taking a class he thinks will be easy, and then flunking outright.

By Ben Tausig

Other Reviews of Pole



1 2 3


Read More

View all articles by Ben Tausig

Find out more about Mute

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.