Thursday, 18 July 2013

El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead (2007)

Although the situation may have changed since I became a fat old man insisting that although some of these youngsters may be able to knock out the odd tune, Tears for Fears and Red Box pretty much remain the unchallenged gold standard for contemporary rock and pop excellence - hip-hop was once fiercely bifurcated into two major schools, and may well still be for all I know. These schools, as seen through my own particular postman-tinted spectacles, were backpack and everything else.

The latter category incorporates all the stuff with the swearing and some guy telling you he's going to cut off your face and use it to wipe his arse, plus a lot of stuff that doesn't do that, or even anything like it, and as such serves to indicate how deeply pointless is any attempt to draw up categories for such an eclectic and wide-ranging musical bracket. Backpack on the other hand tends to entail high-minded rap gentlemen telling you how to play chess without recourse to rude or disrespectful words, talking about lentils and whole food in the assumption that if you're not on the team then you're probably a bit of a tosser and thus in need of a particularly condescending form of education.

El-P has on occasion been lumped in with this latter category by association, which has always struck me as a little unfair given that his talents go some way beyond repeating the words wisdom and understanding over and over as though mere reference to such qualities instils intellectual depth; and politically he takes a blunt instrument stance, as opposed to just sort of standing there sneering at you for eating a sausage. Lyrically his barrage of words is often overwhelming, but it somehow works like a Burroughs novel, random assault by imagery; and it's powerful in the way that a dose of epsom salts can be powerful.

Musically, El Producto doesn't sound quite like anyone else, with the peculiar exception of early Nocturnal Emissions albums, at least in terms of the aesthetic and touches such as rhythm used as effect rather than as rhythm in the traditional sense. I'll Sleep When You're Dead is broken bits of sound welded together, even hammered into shape when they don't quite fit, and is as such the least digital thing I've heard in a long time.

The sum of these parts resembles nothing else, a gritty hybrid of  raw anger and science-fiction narrative which leaves no target unscathed by its razor-edged wit. In theory it should make for very uneasy listening - and it should be noted Habeas Corpses is probably one of the most harrowing narratives you'll ever hear on a rap record - but somehow this is one album that just glues itself into the CD player and refuses to budge.

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