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13 & God

Own Your Ghost

Rating: 4.1/5.0

Label: Anticon

Recently, Doseone and Jel have been all about their past. After devoting themselves to the groundbreaking Subtle for half a decade, the twosome have been returning to the other projects they’ve been tied to. First was Themselves’ triumphant return with theFREEhoudini mixtape and now we’re seeing the long anticipated follow-up to yet another defining collaboration for the two, 13 & God.

Own Your Ghost comes more than five years after 13 & God’s self-titled debut but it sounds like it’s only separated from that work by a matter of days rather than years. When the Notwist teamed up with Doseone and Jel for that debut, it was a revelation, a deliciously contradictory collision of styles that worked remarkably well despite every indication that it shouldn’t have. Up until Own Your Ghost, it was possibly the most immediately accessible project Doseone and Jel had been involved in. Own Your Ghost is similarly new listener-friendly.

Lacking though it may the novelty factor of that debut, Own Your Ghost is nonetheless unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. Combining Doseone’s signature bitter flow and the softly crooning styles of the Notwist, the result elevates both elements, making Doseone more palatable for those not used to him and granting the Notwist an edge their music otherwise lacks. Where the two are set up directly against one another, as is the case on “Death Major,” the results are explosive.

Constructed from a schizophrenic Jel beat and warm, dreamy Notwist atmospherics, “Death Major” puts Doseone in the driver’s seat, with Markus Acher’s breathy vocals flanking him, peering in from the edges. “Old Age” hands the reins over to Acher, getting great mileage out of the kind of acoustic plinking found on most Notwist affairs, the background flooded with the kind of ramshackle craziness more typically found on Themselves releases. That juxtaposition of Acher’s silky speak-singing and Themselves-like clutter turns “Old Age” into the kind of potential indie hit that can score quirky summer films as easily as it can satisfy the need of Anticon cult members for a heavy dose of oddness.

As an admitted Anticon fan, it’s difficult to tell how Own Your Ghost will be taken by those not in the fold but the catchiness of the “Old Age”-“Et Tu”-“Death Minor” trifecta alone bodes well. That trilogy, which sits at the center of the album, begins with the indie pop shimmer of “Old Age” and builds into the somber yet driving “Et Tu” before finally coming down with “Death Minor.” All three speak to the idea of aging and the cycle of life, “Death Minor” summing it up best with what appears to be the line, “Death is a song and a dance.” Life and death of course aren’t new themes by any means for art but 13 & God are especially suited to their exploration. With Doseone and Jel sitting in as emblems of chaos and decay, the Notwist are able to take on the role of life-bringers, building something viable and organic out of that chaos and decay. The immediate follow-up to “Death Minor,” “Sure as Debt,” features Own Your Ghost’s most danceable (and therefore most lively) beat and commits itself to the mantra, “Sure as debt/ Dust collects.” Doseone is the specter of death there, threatening to end it all while the Notwist have their fragile, twinkling pianos and pulsing guitars as their defense.

The universality of that sense of delaying the inevitable, of having only the flimsiest of weapons to stem the tides of time, is far less alienating than the subjects Doseone’s focus can sometimes take. That the songcraft is so well-developed is of course helpful too in luring in new fans; a song like the immaculately constructed “Beat On Us” could have worked for either group but when shared between the two it rises far, far above its station. For the Notwist, “Beat On Us” would likely have been a lighter than air, intimately strummed number whereas for Themselves it would have been a darkly off-kilter affair. Paired together, 13 & God make it a freewheeling, eccentric tumble through the collected traits of the two groups that forms a beautiful new creature.

It’s a fitting example of why that five year delay between albums is impossible to detect in the results of Own Your Ghost– in that time these pioneers may have separately explored quite a few possible individual paths but their joint chemistry has remained, waiting for them to ignite it once more. That’s also the reason why this remains a sound unheard anywhere else; partnerships like 13 & God are fragile things, near impossible to replicate without the rare elements that led to their creation. And for an album devoted to the passing of time, could it have even been created without that very passing happening to its creators?

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