The moment all four of you have been waiting for. Read the writeup after the jump.
1. El-P: I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead [Definitive Jux]
El-P: “Tasmanian Pain Coaster”
“…and the angels wouldn’t help you…because they’ve all gone away.”
And so begins Brooklyn producer/emcee El-P’s masterpiece. There is no mistaking what you’re getting into after that intro. This is a man who is furious at what he’s seeing, as well as the fact it doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone else, and a man no longer content to let the chips fall where they may. A messenger of dystopia whose work is commonly compared to Phillip K. Dick and George Orwell, El-P’s newest record is dense and nearly impenetrable upon first listen – only his emotion shines through off the bat. But as you delve into his imagery and start deciphering his rhymes, you find an artist dedicated to improving not only his craft but himself, and to put that on record is an extremely challenging and brave feat.
He also happens to be a master behind the boards, blending his influences and genres into a sound that is tough to pigeonhole, ranging from blasts of electroshock therapy to old-school tributes. There are so many details to capture, from the interspersed sounds of car alarms, monkeys and barking dogs on “No Kings” to the ascending and descending notes that punctuate the bars on “Run the Numbers.” Dirty guitars and fuzzy beats are still in heavy rotation, but there’s a clarity and diversity to the beats on this record that was lacking in El-P’s earlier solo works and his work with Company Flow. The aggression that drives his beats is the common thread in his production, and it works like a charm thanks to the subject matter.
El-P: “Run the Numbers”
I’d be lying if I said the events that transpired this year didn’t have a huge influence on my love for this record. But this is more than right place, right time, and I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is much more than a diary on wax. It’s the story of determination amidst insanity, of trying to be reasonable in a world where we go to war under false pretenses and more people can locate which club Lindsay Lohan frequents than can find the United States on a fucking map.
“This is the sound of what you don’t know/ killing you/ This is the sound of what you don’t believe/ still true/ This is sound of what you don’t want/ still in you.” These lines from the chorus of “Tasmanian Pain Coaster” sum up this record quite tidily. (They’re also repeated at the beginning of the album’s final song, further evidence of their mantra status.) Ignorance is not bliss. Pretending to be something you’re not will get you nowhere. The only way out of this is to be honest with yourself and those around you, lace up your boots, and deal with the world as it comes.
El-P: “Poisenville Kids No Wins (feat. Cat Power)/Reprise (This Must Be Our Time)”
The record grinds through sheer fury and disorientation, questioning authority, religion, and the sleepwalking majority before yielding to more vicious introspection on the epic closer, “Poisenville Kids No Wins,” one of the best songs of the year both lyrically and musically. He spends four minutes beating himself up with lines like “You are not uniquely pained/ and if you go we won’t be sorry” but he’s not beating himself up in an empty display of self-flagellation — it’s an attempt to encourage growth. The final line of the song (and the album) — “And if I have to live, you have to live, whether you like this shit or not” — is a fitting motto for the verve-impaired, one that mandates forward progress at all times.
It’s very likely that I’ll listen to The National’s Boxer much more frequently and praise it more vehemently than I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead in the coming years. But during a period marked by loads of transition and seemingly endless soul-searching, this record has been a security blanket riddled with a strangely comforting confusion and frustration. I still don’t know if there are any answers to be found here, but sometimes it’s enough to know there’s someone else asking the same questions.