Despite any number of classic lines and flashy rhymes, the enduring legacy of hip-hop will someday be that it once again reminded an entire nation of the importance of rhythm. After the stagnant beats of disco and the reactionary rigidity of punk, rap showed that it took hardly more than a drum beat to be both funky and edgy. The notion is so inherently revolutionary that hip-hop permeates just about every aspect of the alt-rock empire, whose denizens were raised on the sounds of the streets even as they lounged in the relative affluence of the suburbs. This is not to imply that Soul Coughing is some collection of suburban wannabes. To the contrary, the band emerged from the cosmopolitan chaos of New York City, one of the few places on the planet where it's difficult to delineate just where the "streets" end and the supposed comfort of mainstream society begins. Soul Coughing is thus a complete hodgepodge of all things urban, from hip-hop to jazz to Beat poetry to avant-garde sampling. And, like all cultural chameleons, the band continues to change along with its surroundings. El Oso is Soul Coughing's third and most streamlined release, a record that draws a good deal from the predominant influence of drum and bass music—another child of hip-hop. But credit the band with subverting the generally melodic and cluttered constraints of jungle. Just as Roni Size has done on recent efforts, Soul Coughing borrows from the frenetic pace of drum and bass but bends it toward its own funky purposes. "Blame," for example, is little more than the bed of Sebastian Steinberg's rubberband bass and Yuval Gabay's skittering drums (which almost sound programmed), but it's not boring. Vocalist M. Doughty's unique vocals, which have developed from a sort of neo-Beat spoken word bleat to almost dancehall-like toasting, would likely dominate the music if the musicians weren't all so distinctive. Keyboard/sampler-player M'ark de Gli Antoni in particular deserves credit for finding novel ways to inject his otherwise conspicuous sounds; his presence in songs like "St. Louise Is Listening" and "Circles" is curiously subtle though obviously essential. It's a wonder a band like Soul Coughing, with its often jarring pairing of disparate elements, has managed to cohere its influences into such a cohesive vision. That said, Soul Coughing probably couldn't exist at any other time, so it's good to hear them making so much of the boundless moment.

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