Entering the millennium, hip-hop diverged with a splitstream, a trench dug for the purpose of purifying the waters. Underground was salvation from the shiny suit music videos on MTV. An everyman’s genre that took on forms sometimes too everyman and progressive to be sufficiently internalized at the time. By 1999 there was comical hubris about the future, which was complemented by Y2K anxiety. The yin and yang of fools. Dumb ideas found louder voices in the panic. And maybe it had to do with being 16 at the time, but it was my first taste of zeitgeist level paranoia. In 2000, Andrew Broder released his debut as Fog, a project that began as a dumb joke gone too far. Unlike the dumb ideas of the time though, Broder’s self-proclaimed “dumb half-serious joke” was to put a guitar solo on his next mixtape. But that “what-if” scenario germinated in his psyche until demos took shape and live four-track recordings fed into a full length that to this day remains peerless as an unbridled anomaly.
“Pneumonia” was the epiphany for Broder. It’s unmistakably the most accessible offering on the album. It also establishes a pop sensibility that likely fed into its exile. Unless you were listening to equal parts Modest Mouse and Dr. Octagon in 2000, Fog had no home in your hard drive. Message boards were breaking down the Berlin wall between OK Computer and Operation: Doomsday, but that didn’t mean we were prepared for an artist that embodied that merger. In 2000 it was easy to question the motives of a white guy marrying rap and indie rock, or worse yet fail to comprehend the innovation required to even discover the overlapping DNA.
Perhaps that hint of insincerity exiled Fog? Perhaps it was an early whiff of hipster irony that was pungent before we knew what it was? In more earnest times, a white guy that can work the turntables and play guitar is a certifiable hit. Two years prior Everlast enjoyed mainstream success with the acoustic rap of “What It’s Like.” Decades since, the notion of a white guy from Minneapolis amalgamating styles without the gauche stench of rap rock seems abnormally absent. Broder comes from an era of outsider white guys who took hip-hop to the most milquetoast and avant-garde places in sincerity.
Fog’s self-titled album likely found its audience through two means: test runs via guest spot endorsements by MF Doom and Doseone (both inviting audiences only beginning to cross-pollinate) and emerging technology vis-à-vis piracy. The album opens with MF Doom who was one year removed from his comeback masterpiece Operation: Doomsday. Although not with a verse, but by christening with a poem worthy of a commencement speech entitled “A Word of Advice.”
"In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of the hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.”
This appeared on the original version that Broder self-released under the imagined imprint Dinkytown Records. A significant coup for a nobody from Minneapolis. It is a totem to an early incarnation of Doom that is still willing to speak in good faith, rather than in self-interest as a supervillain.
Across the album, Broder is not the most gifted turntablist in the traditional sense. And it never matters. His scratch techniques and selections for manipulation achieve expression that was never equipped for the DMC battles. Broder is an expressionist, more akin to Kid Koala’s narrative approach to the tables. His aim pierces melancholy in tracks like the effervescent exotica of “Check Fraud,” but is not immune to darker terrain. The album is the raw pathos of Broder, who made the record as self-medication against depression. The obvious being “Pneumonia” in its opening sentiment “is it depression or disease? / tell it to the millipedes.” Whereas, his reluctance and recoil is countered with a lullaby by Doseone on “Glory” to honor the quitters. At his bleakest is “Fool” with its satellite transmissions that scratch distilled panic into the sonic fabric to the timeless depravity of sampled Bukowski readings.
[caption id="attachment_2001" align="aligncenter" width="300"]This album is so lost, finding a decent image of the cover is a challenge[/caption]
Of course, these minor details had meager currency in 2000. The Fog album was downloaded in 2000 and beyond because of low overhead for a test run. The risk being: zero cost beyond the idle threat of a piracy lawsuit. It’s important to note that I, like so many, did not hear Fog’s debut in 2000. When Ninja Tune, at the encouragement of Doseone, gave it an international re-release in 2002 I did not hear it either. Fog was an inexplicable dorm discovery in 2004. A record downloaded for free on Audiogalaxy and uploaded to an MP3 player that could hold at best 22 songs. Listened to on half-stoned walks to class on a sylvan campus in Southeast Ohio.
The Ninja Tune release led to major opportunities for Broder to form a band and tour the United States and Europe. It led to the evolution of Fog, but it did not facilitate the sustainability of Fog. Some records seem destined to live in obscurity until individuals possessing the prerequisite criteria for understanding arrive at random. Despite y2k anxiety and our presumptuous understanding of the future, in 2000 a record that combined these two things, anxiety and an inventive approach to instrumentation through turntablism and guitar, was impossibly foreign. There are simply not enough fans of The Microphones and the Invisibl Skratch Piklz that are willing to let their food touch.
What’s important to know about Andrew Broder is that he was no tourist. He got his first turntables in 1993, a set he still uses to this day. Early on he practiced turntables with DJ Abilities, who would go on to become tour DJ for Atmosphere and release records alongside Eyedea on local label Rhymesayers. In the same way that it is weird to see a celebrity breakdance, in a manner that suggests he/she learned long before fame was ever possible, it was likely weird to see a gangly, straw-haired Minneapolis boy competing in the DMC battles and not strumming at whiskey bars in a ‘Mats rip off band. Even then, Broder reflected recently on the Secret Skin podcast with Open Mike Eagle that he never went far in the DMCs due to his preference for creativity over technical proficiency. The battles encouraged rigid obligations to the artform that left little room for a guy who’d go on to add junky synthesizers to his scratch mixtapes.
Since that debut in 2000, Broder has morphed Fog into many forms. It’s a project terminally allergic to genre. Early recordings fussed through dilapidated ambient soundscapes, sound collages of bird call records set to pedal manipulations, weirdo bedroom poetry songs, and always benchmarked with one undeniable freak folk anthem. Eventually a three-piece core formed with luminary collaborators like Martin Dosh, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low, Andrew Bird, and Phil Elverum. By Ditherer, Fog was adhering to rockist expectations. Critics tried to throw out signifiers like “deserves to be talked about in the same circle as The Arcade Fire,” but they never stuck. Fog seems to put off a stench that wards off groupthink. There’s this feeling that you hear a Fog record alone. And no matter how deeply it resonates with you, it’s an exclusive admiration. Let’s face it, do you really want to overhear your best friend singing “with the shower running and my clothes on I figured out that I hate you all” and have that no longer be your lyric? Dumb jokes are for exclusive ears and so goes a Fog record. To this day, in my estimation there is no other record like Andrew Broder’s self-titled debut as Fog. It exists still as a record both alive in immediacy and impervious to immediate understanding.