cLOUDDEAD is the leading light of Anticon, a Bay Area collective that gets lumped in with hip-hop more by default than by decree. Anticon music trades in beats and rhymes, but the beats sound like murky playroom recordings, and the rhymes point to Allen Ginsberg more than Jay-Z. It's hard to account for a group like cLOUDDEAD without thinking of hip-hop, though their bond is closest to that between a strutting streetwalker and his moody shadow.

The group's three members—Why?, Odd Nosdam, and Doseone—have all worked on scores of arty records that are more interesting to think about than to listen to, but Ten waves like a grand flag above a communal scene usually marked by tattered streamers. Odd Nosdam's backing tracks tumble and fade in a psychedelic haze, wrapping impressionistic boom-bap rhythms in layers of space-rock, frazzled field recordings, and ambient crinkles reminiscent of Boards Of Canada (who recently did a rare remix for cLOUDDEAD). The sound is lo-fi yet focused and evocative, like dashed-off sketches of drawings that look better in pencil than they would in pen. "Pop Song" unfurls at a slow crawl, like hip-hop on a lazy day, as Why? and Doseone hiss through poetic rhymes about a "wooden man and his splintering self." The effect is woozy and even a little head-nodding, but it's better suited for a dream than for a boom-box.


Some of cLOUDEAD's lyrics are too precious and oblique not to shrug off, but the good ones rub rich images from their absurdist couplings. The chorus of "The Velvet Ant" focuses on a "strawberry in an ostrich throat," while "Dead Dogs Two" laces its nasal kiddie delivery with knifing lines like "I wanna see your arms stripped to the tendons." None of it means much of anything in a literal sense, but Ten traffics in suggestion ripe enough to pick and chew.