The combination of rock and rap will almost always yield awful results. It’s sort of the musical equivalent of the McGriddle — two things you thoroughly enjoy don’t always work well together. Even the pioneering collaborations that started this hybrid rap-rock movement (Aerosmith/Run DMC, Anthrax/Public Enemy, Faith No More’s “Epic”) aren’t really as good as they seemed at the time. And, of course, there are all the horrible bands that came later: Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, et al. Yet, the combination can work, when altered a bit. Take a rock band that isn’t really a rock band and a hip-hop group that isn’t really hip-hop, and what you end up with is an experimental post-everything collaboration that succeeds by not adhering to convention. And when your “rock” band is German knob-twiddlers The Notwist and your hip-hop group is Bay Area weirdos Themselves, you end up with a hell of a combination.
13 & God is the chosen name for this musical pairing, though I’m not sure which one is 13 and which one is God. Nor am I positive that these designations represent the musicians at all. What I do know is that the full-length debut by this peculiar musical collective is stunning in its defiance of musical norms. What makes this pairing so admirable is how much of a true collaboration it really is. The Notwist’s Markus Acher and Doseone of Themselves primarily handle vocal duties, the former offering his melodically detached, beautifully rigid delivery while the latter spits rhymes seemingly broadcast from another planet — distorted, inhuman and bizarre. All the while, Micha Acher and Martin Gretschmann from the Notwist and Dax and Jel of Themselves, handle the musical aspect, programming and performing beautifully bizarre and avant garde compositions that are melodic and sublime, yet seemingly out of place in any sort of club setting.
“Low Heaven” offers the first step into the world of 13 & God, a mostly instrumental track with a few select Doseone transmissions floating in between the haunting electronic tones. The first single, “Men of Station,” sounds far more like The Notwist than any Anticon releases. Markus Acher takes center vocal stage as the melody takes on a more post-rock structure. “Ghostwork,” by comparison, is something more of a hip-hop track, though not the likes of which The Source would ever concern themselves with. And “Perfect Speed,” one of the best tracks on the album, combines the Notwist’s knack for melodicism with rumbling, static-riddled hip hop beats. It’s an interesting bit of experimental pop that has the ability to appeal to both turntable junkies and post-rock aficionados.
It’s pretty safe to say that there’s not much on 13 & God’s debut that sounds like anything you’ve heard before. In fragments, perhaps, but on the whole, it’s a new type of hybridization that finds any true artists, regardless of genre, coming together in perfect harmony.
The Notwist – Different Cars and Trains
Subtle – A New White
Lali Puna – Faking the Books
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.