Houston Music

Freedom Sold

With its first EP, Whores, Freedom Sold burst on the local scene as a hip-hop act with heart, soul and focus. Disappointingly, these characteristics are all but absent on the duo's latest project, Ten Years Four Walls. An indecipherable mixture of static and electronic noise and banal, incoherent ramblings, the album, we can only hope, is a momentary stagnation from an otherwise promising band.

Lacking the direction and focus it displayed on Whore, the band puts ruthless energy into this sonic document about the nonstruggle of the common man. "Struggle is glorified," the band writes in the liner notes, "but how many people truly struggle in their lives?" The duo raises an interesting question, but sadly it makes for a lousy album.

Random noise-scapes litter the project, and tracks meander from one angry, directionless lament to another, saying little in the end. Apparently an attempt to make Freedom Sold more attractive to a wider audience, this recording is practically guaranteed to do just the opposite: to alienate even those who purchased the debut release. For all the negative commentary, however, the band does have some shining moments on the 16-track CD, particularly when the aggressive, jangly electronic sounds and embittered lyrics give way to a mellow, jazzy riff and smooth, sensual beats. Songs like "Kids with Gunz" exemplify a style promulgated by DJ Shadow on his 1996 disc, Endtroducing. Freedom Sold is original and inventive, as opposed to loud and overproduced, when it sticks with its signature style.

The band's greatest flaw is its musical waffling. While hip-hop is itself postmodern in concept -- the breaking down of a musical form to its barest element and then re-creating it as a new concept -- the kind of sound Freedom Sold creates is not exactly hip-hop. It is a mess caught somewhere in between electronic noise and rap over produced beats.

In the end, neither of the band's recordings comes close to capturing its live show, which is pure energy and raw emotion. Mesmerizing to behold in person, Freedom Sold puts on the kind of show that leaves audiences breathless and begging for more.

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Elizabeth Taishoff