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New American Songbook

New American Songbook: Untouchable But Unavoidable


The album "The Cold Vein" by the group Cannibal Ox is almost indescribable. Released in 2001, the album is produced by El-P, now well-known as half of the rap super-duo Run the Jewels; the music is dense and menacing, chordal and inorganic. Two emcees, Vast Aire and Vordul Mega, deliver what sounds like dispatches from the world on the other side of the singularity.

What is this world? It is desperate and mechanical, flesh fused with metal, and always winter. The heart of the album is in the song "Pigeon," where the city bird is woven into a metaphor for survival at all costs.

Fifteen years later and there is still nothing like this music, which is strange, because normally music this good is imitated until the essence is drained and the charts are saturated. It’s not as if this album is unknown—people know "The Cold Vein"; they speak about it like a dark gospel, like the album is a visible divot in spacetime, untouchable but unavoidable.