The longest album review ever

September 21, 2007

5-year old Live Journal ramblings aside, I’ve never been compelled to do a music review. In fact, I’ve never really been a fan of reading them, either. I rarely agree with the reviewer, and if I do, the piece is so stuffy that it seems the writer is using the review as a showcase for their own writing skills rather than to define and judge an album. I know you know what I’m talking about.

In recent years, few albums have succeeded in provoking a truly emotional response from me as a result of their insight, creativity, and overall listenability. Sure, there have been highlights. But nothing that made me want to put an album on repeat, permanently. Until now.

El-P’s new-ish full-length, called “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” is the single most powerful musical effort I’ve heard in a dog’s life. Known for being intelligently poetic and politically charged, El-P’s latest effort grabs the collective balls of conventional hip hop and stuffs them, en masse, into the garborator. That garborator turns on the second you press play.

The track, “Dear Sirs”, begins with frantic tapping of a typewriter that somehow mutates into a blazingly fast coup of heavy double bass drum goodness with no identifiable time signature—all while maintaining the furious resonance of writing an angry letter.

Dear Sirs,” He states,

If the pavement comes alive on Flatbush Ave with toothy smiles
Comprised of traffic cones and manholes become eyes

And continues on a tirade of his futuristic vision of something that resembles a utopian anarchy, yet seems to take place in the present.

And drugs no longer taunt me and flooze around my conscience
And every woman beating rapist is nailed securely in their coffins

This scenario is further elaborated upon while being perfectly captured and delicately framed with distorted guitars for another verbose half minute.

And the sniveling grimace mongrels of infected money slobbering pesticrats ignite
into a brilliant beam of light
And mercy is the rule
And the exception’s mercy too
And the desert comes in Brooklyn and the President goes to school

And, as if he’s either nearly run out of breath, or his gushing, bloody nose is warning him that another 10 seconds of this and his head’s going to explode, he ends with:

Time flows in reverse
Death becomes my birth
Me fighting in your war is still, by a large margin
The least likely thing that will ever fucking happen…ever

The sheer electricity of feverish contempt in his voice was enough to give me goose bumps. And that was before I could understand a goddamn word he was saying. This song clocks in at 1:34.

Another track, titled “Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love)”, appears to take place sometime in the distant future where the world is divided into traitors and those who dispose of them. Cage—a stunningly controversial artist with a sharp tongue and a bucket full of clever to cool you off with when stung—makes an appearance or two on this song. Together, they talk through a narrative where they act as traitor executioners when El-P falls in love with one of the prisoners he’s about to kill. The song starts on an eerie note with what sounds like a decrescending electric cello that just consumed a bucket-sized GHB and ketamine cocktail.

The two talk about their jobs.

Cage: “When I wake up and put this suit on, I feel escape begin
Expirations are needed, I facilitate the end

El-P: “There are two types of mornings/mournings in this life I can surmise
I wake early in the first to help supply the second type

After a bit of back and forth, El-P confesses his fixation on the prisoner and Cage attempts to wrap his head around the scenario.

El-P: “I’m saying during the tenure of your gig, have you ever herded a pris
Who despite the traitorous label, makes you nervous as a kid?
Maybe beyond a date with the lead, there’s something else meant for
A prisoner with the beauty of 247290-Z

Cage: “Oh God, you gotta be joking, I get it she’s smoking
Go get a taste, I’ll hold you down for thirty, she must be purty, you’re open
Your secret’s safe with me, go on a raping spree
I gotta couple numbers of my own, just return the courtesy

Without pasting the entire song here and offending you with what some would call objectionable content, let me tell you this—It’s story telling at its finest. The production creates a very believable atmosphere, while the syllabic efforts of each artist ebb and flow with both smooth compliance and negative friction.

Unlike the product of today’s marketing machine-driven content, each track on “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” has a big, fat, juicy gem in it – if the song itself isn’t.

I should also note the unlikely collaborations that make their home on this record, too: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala of the Mars Volta; Mr. Dibbs; Aesop Rock; Mr. Lif; Daryl Palumbo of Glassjaw and Head Automatica; Chan Marshall a.k.a. Cat Power; and the most surprising of them all—Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Given this is almost exclusively a rap record, it’s impressive to see the roster of very well-known rock musicians working with El-P.

This is easily the finest urban music record I’ve ever owned, and it’s likely one of the best of any genre.

Also, El-P has red hair. Heh.

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3 Responses to “The longest album review ever”

  1. two gurus in drag said

    Sold. I’m going to buy it right now.

  2. jayphill said

    well well well… let me be the first to say after listening to this with Mike, i was the first person to sit there and think it was going to suck, but, from the beginning of track one, all the way to i believe it was track 4 we got to, i was fucking amazed…

    I look forward to hearing the rest, and thank you Andrew.. Thank you.

  3. sherpa said

    Dear sirs is in 5/4 or 5/8 time. If you were wondering.

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