Tuesday, October 20, 2009

#75. Dälek - Absence (Ipecac, 2005)

Confrontational is really the only adjective that does justice to Dälek's sound. Both the lyrics and the music are 100% in your face for the whole hour-plus length of Abence, and really I wouldn't have it any other way. The main reason that this speaks to me so much is that in order for ti to be confrontational on the level that it is there needs to be passion, and passion is the sort of thing that will draw me into an album before things like quality or oddness. Absence is undeniably a work of passion, both in Will "Dälek" Brooks' relentless barrage of lyrics and the ace production team of Oktopus and Still's dense, unforgivingly dark beats, which is a quality even some hip hop albums I prefer to it on an aesthetic level can't match.

Aesthetically, you could probably dismiss Absence as pretty damned ugly if you're not prepared for it. Dälek set themselves apart from their peers in the underground hip hop scene early on by taking a much noisier approach to their beats. I'm not talking Merzbow-noisy - though some of the more discordant moments do sound like a low-key approximation of some of his stuff - but something akin to shoegaze's most uncompromisingly feedback drenched moments. Combine that with their tendency for song with a much more epic scope (only three of the ten tracks here don't cross the 5-minute mark and only 2 of those aren't over the 6-minute threshhold) and you've got an album that's probably gonn alienate a lot of people for whatever reason. It's not the sort of thing you can give to any hip-hop head and expect them to love it off the bat is what I'm saying, but hand it to someone who's tastes tend towards the more weird ends of music and it could be their gateway into hip hop. Speaking personally, the groups preceding album From Filthy Tongues of Gods and Griots was an eye-opener and a half, essentially making me say to myself 'wait, hip hop can do that?' (shut up, I was 17) by he time "Back Smoke Rises" was half over. Absence is a much more consistent album though, and still remains the highlight of their mostly very good discography.

Broke stride as last of men realized their deep deceit.
This troubling advance of half-assed crews crowd these streets.
Never mind of who I am, son, just listen when I speak
Broken paragraphs hold wrath of a hundred million deep.
Bleak circumstance led masses to only want to dance
A bastard child of Reaganomics posed in a B-Boy stance
Make our leaders play minstrel, Left with none to lead our people.
How the fuck am I gonna shake your hand, when we never been seen as equals?

That's what happens before the beats even start, and even at that opener "Distorted Prose" doesn't really kick in for another 45 seconds or so, but right away it's clear that you're listening to a very angry album. When the crushing wall of noise and beat crash the party it just completes the picture: Dälek are not going to let you off easy at many points in the album. There's the occasional bit of respite, the instrumental "Köner" sounds like an ambient interlude compared to its surroundings, but really Absence is about absolutely pummeling the listener from the word go. The beats are always heavy, slow and harsh, Brooks' lyrics are always violent, passionate and combattive anf the overall picture they paint is bleaker than most death doom albums. Even the most positive sounding thing here, "Ever Somber," is still so steeped in the darkness that it only really comes off as positive when heard out of context. The unrelenting bleakness would be an issue if not for just how lush it sounds, layer upon layer of noise converging over slow drum patterns to create an atmosphere that, no matter how uninviting it is initially, soon envelops you. Since unlike a lot of hip hop albums it's not fragmented by use of different producers, the atmosphere develops consistently over the hour giving the whole album a certain oneness that adds to its greatness in my eyes. It's not the kind of thing I can listen to any time, but once in a while it's noce to be completely steamrolled by the bleakness.

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