FANTASTIC DAMAGE: EL-P Tuesday 25 October, 2011

Approach this album with caution. It means to mess with your head and what it means to do it does.

Organised sonic chaos is one way to describe this album. The first couple of playthroughs left me feeling dirty. Initial impressions would have you believe that this music is untidily produced, sloppy even. Upon closer inspection you’ll realise that this music is scrupulously regimented. In some respects this album channels the complexity of jazz which is pretty unusual for hip hop. As much as I love it hip hop is rarely this complex. Normally the modus operandi of your common or garden hip hop producer is to find a break that is ‘off the hook’ (“in the parlance of our times” – M. Lebowski) and then loop it over the funky drummer beat. I jest, of course but this is a production style that is way ahead of it’s time. Yes. I think El-P is a great pioneer of the art. He’s right up there with The Bomb Squad, Ali Shahi Muhammad, DJ Premier and Dr Dre.  All of these guys pushed the artform forward and I believe that El-Producto has achieved the same thing.

Where El-P differs from his contemporaries is that this guy can ‘rock the mic’ (“in the parlance of our time” – M. Lebowski) with the best of them. This guy is fiercely intelligent which comes through in not only his music but also in his lyrics and rhyme style.  Just listen to Stepfather Factory which has El-P dissecting the experience of being a step child by using the story of a company who produces robotic stepfathers. It’s a chilling commentary  and a piece of fantastically acerbic poetry. El-P’s lyrics are densely packed scatter bombs of incisive analysis and it will take many many listens to just keep up enough to begin to analyse.

At times it can feel like this album doesn’t want you to like it. It almost seems like it is challenging the listener to earn the right to further listening.  You may well feel like turning back. Turn it off. Walk away. You’ve got other music to listen to that wants to be friends with you. Persevere though. Once you start to get the logic of this soundscape it will feel so natural that you’ll wish for more music that has the depth of this.  This is not pop music after all people. This is real music. This is art. It’s true expression. This is not music made for the lowest common denominator and marketed by some teen girl in a mini-skirt sucking a lollipop. This is real and lasting.

You will feel oppressed in places by this album. There will be moments that feel a bit hard to bare but there will also be moments of absolute blissful release. The move from Deep Space 9MM into Tuned Mass Damper is one of my favourite gear changes on any album. In fact this album has quite a few brilliantly unexpected gear change moments. It’s almost as if it has a similar loud/soft dynamic ethos to The Pixies and Nirvana but  filtered through hip hop.

I’m not prone to bouts of gushing enthusiasm but this album (and in fact this artist) are one of the things that really will start me off. Now that you know this though you’ll know better than to bring either up in conversation unless you want to join in. Go get it and get damaged…fantastically.

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