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Thursday, 27 December 2012

Dälek - Absence (2004)

There are few hip-hop acts who have dared to push the possibilities of hip-hop as far as Dälek. Bringing in influences from funk, hip-hop, industrial rock, noisecore, krautrock, and shoegaze, Dälek might be one of the loudest and most daring hip-hop acts around. Absence sees Dälek at their most extreme, with ten almost unlistenable tracks soaked in distorted noise, brutal atonal screeches, and layers of harsh feedback, unfettered by the conventions and expectations of the hip-hop genre.

After a verse of solo poetry, album-opener ‘Distorted Prose’ hits you with a dark sonic assault combining gloomy beats with screeches of pained feedback and distortion. It’s the sound of robotic monsters breathing their last and collapsing beneath their own weight into a sea of twisted metal.

‘Asylum (Permanent Underclass)’ fuses an aggressive vocal delivery with layers of fluctuating noise that sound like some of the more uncomfortable moments on Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’. The beats thunder across the mix as the track becomes an essay in pure horror. The uneasy listening continues on ‘Culture for Dollars’, a track which brings together glitchy electric guitars feeding back and slicing through seismic beats and scratch-mixed screams.

A moment’s respite is given by the short atmospheric soundscape ‘Absense’, with its ambient tones and itchy echoic sounds giving the album chance to rest for a moment before blasting in with ‘A Beast Caged’. The hip-hop sensibility comes to the fore in this one as funky break-beats are punctuated by laid-back rhymes. Though this is probably the poppiest offering on the album, we still have our ears pounded with distortion and feedback, albeit in a slightly more melodic way than on previous tracks. There are points where this track reminds me of some of the more intense moments of Death in Vegas’s ‘Death Threat’

‘Koner’ takes it inspiration from some of Eno’s darker works, with its ambient fluctuating tones creating a feeling of claustrophobic angst. ‘In Midst of Struggle’ sees thick sludgy distortion dripping over harsh screeches, as vocals reminencent of Edan’s delivery are spat over the mix. The track sounds like a hip-hop version of My Bloody Valentine’s most extreme experiment ‘Glider’, a track that pushes the very limits of musical form. ‘Eyes to Form Shadows’ is a dark industrial dirge held together by an awesome noise riff that could find itself quite comfortably on a Big Black record.

On ‘Ever Sombre’ we feel the Kevin Shields influence rear its ugly head yet again in a track held together by distorted guitars that drift and glide around the mix constantly pulling away and dipping back into the central melody. It’s a less uncomfortable listen than other tracks on the album and is probably one of its best. Album-closer ‘Opiate the Masses’ is held together by a heavy drumbeat that blasts over a mixture of dull distorted atonal waveforms and melodic chimes. Disjointed vocal cuts are scratched in and out of the mix as the song comes to its almost unpalatable crescendo.

This is an innovative album that fuses hip-hop, shoegaze and noise rock in a way that is original and intriguing. Unfortunately, the cacophony seldom works and sounds more akin to a jumbled clash of ideas than anything fully realised. However, I imagine that this album will be incredibly influential in years to come. I commend the album for its innovative strain and its willingness to push the hip-hop genre into new and exciting territories. It’s an album that is better as an idea than its execution would suggest. I think this is one for the charity shops.

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