December 6, 2007

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Sontiago, Steel Yourself
Endemik Music, Nov. 20
The two or three adventurer-listener readers out there familiar with Anticon’s catalog of avant-hip-hop records will know what I mean when I say that this is very San Francisco. A native Pennsylvanian, rapper/singer Sonya Tomlinson is nowadays a cog in the Portland, Maine scene, which, as I’ve tried to tell you guys before, is probably the most ambitious and enthusiastically supported accumulation of New England musicians outside of Boston (NH bands and indie-label people need to arrange a field trip up there someday).

So anyway, guess what, this is alternative hip-hop, after a dubby Missy Elliot vs Portishead fashion, as told by a married white 20something. “Hollow” is pure Portishead, a love note to her indie-rock hubby, JD Walker, who’s wildly famous if you ask the right handful of scenesters. “We’ll Still Be Here” contrives a female Astronautilas wandering a ratty but ultimately safe rap-waif dreamscape.

Cool stuff, this, but Tomlinson’s singing occasionally crashes the system. When she eases back and engages her Billie Holliday/Portishead scratchy-record gear it’s a peach, but elsewhere her self-backups are so grating you’ll run to the nearest chalkboard and crazily scrape it with your fingernails to drown her out. The most gruesome moments come in “Force It,” where she makes like a burb-tard coed doing Cranberries karaoke – begone, foul Olive Garden patron, hair is literally growing on my teeth. C+ — E. W. S.