2007, and The El-P show is in town once again and as usual it's tooled up ready for an all out assault on just about anything. It's hard to believe that this is only the second full length from the Def Jux label boss as he has been widely regarded as the unofficial king of the underground for a decade now.
It's been almost 5 years since the awesome Fantastic Damage and all the events both artistic and political that have occurred for El-P during this time have left their mark on this record. He has crossed musical paths with a whole host of artists over the years and the result is an album packed full of guest contributions by the likes of Cat Power, Mars Volta and NIN's Trent Reznor. Refreshingly though, none of these are mentioned as 'featuring' on the track-list as explained eloquently here by the man himself. "It's the Southpark theory: When George Clooney appeared on Southpark, it was as a gay dog. That's the type of shit that makes my day." He also delivered 2004's Blue Series fringe jazz project High Water which just contributes to the ever widening artistic pallet of this man.
El-P's political leanings are slightly less tangable. He sure ain't no Republican, but his venomous world view is disguised so expertly in the abstract lyrics that the general feeling of rage and well placed, intelligent scorn is a whole lot more powerful than direct spitting. But where this record differs from it's predecessor is in scale. Politically the world is a very different place now compared to 2002 and though Fantastic Damage was a pretty angry record, this one seems to have a much larger agenda . If his debut was the venting of personal hatred the followup is global and from the outset it's awesomely clear that El Producto is definitely back up in this ma fucka.
Tasmanian Pain Coaster starts things off on a scale that is rarely matched on the rest of the record. It's big and it's scary. It's the sound of an army stamping its steel toe-capped boots to the beat, the looped piano is a call to arms. This opener is the unequivocal sound of a disaffected people marching to war and they march here in awesome numbers and with a power that is breathtaking. With Mars Volta and Matt Sweeney adding guitars to this melting pot of rage this is a force to be reckoned with. The unique thing about any record by El-P is it's ambiguity and irony. You never know when he's being serious or not. After this opener comes to an end and every hair on your body is tingling from a mixture of fear and excitement he starts the next song with the words "Bring me the dramatic intro machine," rendering this huge beginning mere irony and any power you drew from it now makes you feel a bit stupid and gullible. This is both annoying and impressive. It makes you wake up and realise that you're not listening to a normal hip hop record that can be allowed to wash over you with head nodding beats and empty lyrics. This is different and should be questioned at all times and it certainly isn't about to give up the booty this early on in the date.
So on we tread with our feet firmly on the ground. EMG uses a classic "Rock The Bells" beat and in it's Hip Hop hall of fame name-checking we see more of El-P's irony being exorcised on his very own genre. Drive sees El at his lyrical best. Using the car metaphor he gives a pretty bleak outlook on the world today. Starting with the lyric "C'mon Ma, can I borrow the keys, my generation's car-pooling with doom and disease," everything from "Jesus of Nascarith" to Falujah is put through this metaphor, and it's awesome. Flyentology creatively describes the new religion of doomed air travel, "faith v's physics," describing a plummeting plane as "the vessel of my awakening."
The album is put to bed with El-P's dystopian lullaby with Cat Power on backing vocals. Throughout this seven minute closer the beat oozes the boom of apocalyptic doom, the layered production and non-stop rhyming is very claustrophobic until everything is wiped away leaving a dirty looped beat to see us through to the end. The delicate keyboard that rides this beat seems to lull us to sleep, but I fear it's the sleep of the dead not the peaceful.