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31 May, 2005@12:00 am

   The now five-man Oddjobs crew made their national debut in 2000 under the umbrella of the burgeoning Minneapolis/St. Paul hip-hop scene. Since then, they have avoided direct affiliation with the Rhymesayers crew and attempted to forge their own path, always growing and never settling into a specific sound.

   As far as the overall vibe is concerned, their latest album, Expose Negative, is a logical next step after 2003′s dark Shopkeeper’s Wife EP. It is guitar-heavy and sparse; rock-influenced without being a self-conscious crossover. When considering the group’s entire catalog, dating back to their first official release, Absorbing Playtime, one realizes just how versatile they have been.

   But when focusing solely on Expose Negative, it’s hard to reach the same conclusion. The general theme of the album is emotional distress, whether caused by the ills of society or by women. The individual songs are all at the very least listenable (though most are enjoyable). Expose Negative is a very specifically composed record, one in which songs bleed into one another, yet it doesn’t have the form that we find in great hip-hop albums. There is no introduction, no conclusion– just a lot of what seems to be venting. Listening to just one song on the album yields the same reaction as listening to the entire thing.

   Another critical flaw is that unlike previous Oddjobs offerings, it is difficult to discern the three emcees from one another. Nomi, Crescent Moon and Adviser are all very capable writers, and listeners cannot avoid having their ears perked by individual lines and insights. But as far as their deliveries are concerned, there is something lacking. This has always been a problem for the group, and credit should be given for general improvement over the years (especially to MC Adviser, who has stepped his game up significantly). Their personalities and voices on Expose Negative blend in to the point where they sound like one person. This is never a good thing in a group setting, and on this particular album it just serves to add to the monotony. The album’s final track, “Stone Cold,” features a guest appearance from the underrated I Self Divine, and it is really refreshing to hear him do his thing. When compared to I Self, the Oddjobs crew still have an unnatural, rough sound that isn’t the easiest to listen to, especially when there aren’t other strong qualities for the listener to focus on.

    To an extent, there actually is diversity within the songwriting of Expose Negative. “Self-Taught” may just be the very first hip-hop song that’s entirely in 7/4 time signature, and its follow-up, “7th Street Entry – Minus 3″ bears a greater resemblance to the music of Steve Reich than to anything on any previous Oddjobs releases. The compact and well-produced “Dear Parasite” is one of the better tracks on the album but after the likes of “En Pocket” and “Rather See You… Never,” another song that reacts to a bad relationship is just not necessary.

    When all is said and done, Expose Negative is a pretty serious misstep from a very talented group. Producer Deetalx did create some nice beats, but they are just too similar to one another and together, they do not make for a good album. Some of the material on the twelve-song record could have made for a solid EP, but even then, it would weigh a listener down. After listening to Expose Negative, fans of the group will be disappointed, and those who never heard of them before will never give them another chance.

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