Subtle? That's a bit of an understatement. As the story goes, Subtle's latest album, Exiting-ARM, is the third in a triptych that began with A New White and continued through for hero : for fool. ExitingARM is the latest (final?) chapter in the story of a mythical "aspiring middle-class rapper" named Hour Hero Yes (depicted in the album artwork and onstage at shows in antique military garb and a featureless black-and-white-striped face). According to the band, the album release will coincide with the online publishing of 20,000 words of possibly explanatory text. Also, the word "I" has been removed from all the lyrics. Confused yet? Wait until you hear the thing.
Ambitious but opaque multi-album narratives aside, Subtle's music is itself pretty confounding, an omnivorous mix of hiphop, rock, future jazz, dub, folk, electronics, and whatever else catches their fancy (tellingly, key members Doseone and Dax Pierson met at Berkeley's Amoeba Records, where they worked together buying and filing records of all genres). Such fusion has the potential to misfire, to become noodly soup or awkward mashup rather than high-contrast collage, but for most of ExitingARM, Subtle's grasp matches their reach.
Best of all is "Sick Soft Perfection," whose sliding guitar hook anchors a lighter-than-air clatter of bit-crushed drums and soft synth stabs, and the opening title track, which joins a driving midtempo rhythm to an abstract but catchy hymnlike chorus. But separating single songs from the record's enveloping environment and storyline renders them incomplete—this is an album built more for immersion than individual track charting.
Throughout ExitingARM, frontman Doseone remains an inscrutable MC, quick-tongued and verbose, and an unassuming but surprisingly fluid singer, whispering melodies in multitracked reverb to contrast his sharper falsetto raps. Subtle's dramatic range will continue to enrage those who demand hypermasculine posture or snarl from their MCs. Their loss.
Subtle play Sat May 10, Nectar, 9 pm, $12 adv, 21+. With Efterklang, Slaraffenland.