I've been reviewing "I'll Sleep When You're Dead," the new album by one of my favorite Producer/MC's, El-P, for a couple of days now, and its effect is really just settling over me. The first impression is jus how bombastic the damned thing is. El-P has said "this is like a psychedelic Boogie Down Productions record," and he wasn't lying. The drums, the cuts, the soundscape in general just calls to mind old-school hip-hop, but it so filtered, chopped up, and generally murderized that it's obviously not a product of any time but now.
The first two songs that El released to the public, "EMG" and "Flyentology," are the songs that I find least interesting. "EMG" because I've had the song for so long (you could buy it on the Def Jux site starting last July), but "Flyentology" just because it's the most lethargic and least new-sounding of the tracks on the album. El said he set out to make an album that would surprise people and defy expectations - "Flyentology" is exactly how I would have expected the new El-P to sound. Don't get me wrong, it's still a technical marvel, just like every track El produces. But the real surprises are elsewhere. "The League of Extraordinary Nobodies" is my favorite moment on the album, an extremely personal look at how using cocaine can basically eat away at your social circle (you have to hang out with others who use, you never know if someone's really interested in you or if they just want to get high, etc.) and leave you surrounded by drug zombies that you shouldn't and don't trust. A lot of people I love have fought drug addiction at some point and I heard some things in this song more honest than anything this side of Elliott Smith. These lyrics are representative of the album - almost embarrassingly sincere, it's painfully honest.
"I've been noticing the fact that nothing glorious can happen anymore
we run a gambit of our filth
but here I am again, pretending spontaneity exists
with idiots all lifted out their little gills
aren't you disturbed that everything you did tonight
is something that you did before and it's meaning is still nihl?
and all the people in your presence are just weapons
it's as simple as the theory that the dying love to kill."
Not to mention that on a very, very basic level, the beat for "League of..." is one of the most gorgeous sonic compositions I have ever heard in my life. Pianos, synths, horns, screwed-down breakbeats, live studio audience laugh tracks, double-time cymbals, and 808 kicks swarm in and out. The song crescendos at the end. As El asks off-handedly of his listener "You would tell me if I was crazy, right?," all hell breaks loose and what sounds like a french horn run through about 80 effects pedals spazzes out all over the track. The whole experience of this song (especially if you have dealt with this situation in your life) leaves you exhausted, and then something really wonderful happend.
"Poisenville Kids No Wins," featuring Cat Power, arrives. This is the album's dawnbreak moment. The whole thing has gotten extremely dark by this point, and when Cat Power's voice lilts "Nevvvvveeeerrrr aaaaaaaagain...," it just feels like morning.
I've heard a lot of lukewarm and some moderately enthusiastic reviews of the record, but it's better than you've heard. For me, it's the first essential rap album I've heard all year. Granted, I buy like one album a week and it's impossible to keep up with everything, but I've just been left cold my the crack rap/Clipse-mania of recent. I personally just need to hear a little more insight from my rappers than nine million variations of how to cook crack.
The album has an emo quality, I'll admit. It's like a journal entry at times, but fuck, I like reading other people's journals.
"This is stuff that I find hard to discuss
how the fuck do you explain your self-destruction and
still remain trusted?"
The album comes out March 20th, please buy a copy and support independent music.