One might not think much at first glance of David Madson from Cincinnati, Ohio. This bicentennial-born boy from the Midwest may seem mild-mannered on the surface, but when he reverts his last name backwards, and takes on the mantle of Odd Nosdam, he becomes an ambient / hip-hop superhero! Madson’s latest opus is Level Live Wires, a masterful set of artistic compositions that defy explanation. Like the artist from whom he somewhat took his name, Swedish-born and Icelandic resident, Odd Nerdrum, Madson’s art is dark, frightening and extraordinarily beautiful. Nerdrum’s work is probably most well known thanks to the Jennifer Lopez / Tarsem Singh movie, The Cell, which based its imagery heavily on the artist’s work. Madson is best known as a fixture at Anticon, both as its art director and for contributing to works by Jel, Sage Francis, Why? and Thee More Shallows. With Level Live Wires, Madson will reveal to the world that he’s not a mere Clark Kent, but instead a Superman of hip-hop.
After a short intro, Madson introduces us to his world, a world of found sounds, sonic manipulation and gadgetry. He uses these tools of the trade to create intense pieces such as “Kill Tone,” a track with heavy dark beats and diametrically opposed angelic harp lines that somehow mesh together perfectly. The hypnotic and trippy “We Dead” follows, with a female voice repeating the title over and over again. On its own, the song is mesmerizing, but imagine yourself blindfolded in an unfamiliar place listening to it and you’ll get a whole new perspective on the song, on life and probably on wetting your pants. As if that wasn’t trippy enough, then there’s “Freakout 3,” a song that relies heavily on Nosdam’s audio effects to present a scarily excellent result.
Kranky vocalist Jessica Bailiff helps transform “Fat Hooks” into the closest thing to a My Bloody Valentine resurrection that I’ve ever heard. In as brief a way as possible, “Fat Hooks” is one of the most transcendent songs I’ve heard this year, or maybe any other year for that matter. For a while, I wondered if David Bowie’s “Heroes” would sound like this if slowed down to a crawl. It’s altogether otherwordly and stunning. The shorter “Blast” features Serena-Maneesh cellist Hilde Bialach’s to great effect. “The Kill Tone Two” brings back the harp meets beats magic of its predecessor, but this time with rap vocals, a guest appearance by TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and a violin track.
The darkness continues with “Burner,” which also happened to be the title of Madson’s last album. The found sounds in this song make up the foundation, that being the sound of a burning SUV outside Madson’s place of residence. The car’s horn blasts and warps throughout and is overlaid with the now requisite thundering beats and ethereal voices. At the close of the track, you can hear the flames licking and spitting, the result somewhat terrifying. This leads into, appropriately enough, “Up in Flames,” a loping track peppered with little bits of lilting piano from Why?’s Doug McDiarmid. It also features better sped-up vocals than on Kanye’s albums, and put to better use, I might add. “Slight Return” goes back to the harp line from the “Kill Tone” pair, but this time plays it in reverse, as if the juxtaposition weren’t jarring enough earlier. That, I suppose, is the magic of Odd Nosdam, always keeping the listener challenged. Just as Madson began with “On,” he closes the album with “Off,” a track awash in waves of synth sound and ambient waves.
Maybe a better superhero comparison for Nosdam would be Batman instead of Superman. After all, like Madson, Bruce Wayne didn’t have any `real’ super abilities, only the discipline and training resulting from years of hard work. Plus, Batman has a wicked dark side and Superman is somewhat of a boy scout. Mild-mannered Midwesterner David Madson indeed has a dark side, but a dark side with incredible beauty. It’s no mistake that Madson chose Odd Nerdrum as inspiration for his own handle. There’s something intimate in his apocalyptic drawings and paintings, just as there is something terrifying, intense, yet delicate about Madson’s aural masterpieces. It also reminds me of the artwork of Hieronymus Bosch. His visions of hell are incredibly vivid and somewhat terrifying, but so masterful that you can’t take your eyes off of them. Madson is a visionary in his own field, defying classification and genre, and, in his own way, saving the world with his music.
My Bloody Valentine- Loveless
Brian Eno & David Byrne- My Life in the Bush of Ghosts