Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sage Francis - Human The Death Dance

shilzzz: gather round, kiddies, you're boy is still here, holding down the fort like everyday.

This may be going out on a ledge, but Sage Francis is, in my opinion, the most intricate lyricist that rap music currently has. People talked a lot of shit about A Healthy Distrust, but when it comes down to it, Francis had fine tuned his literary vehicles so tightly that by the time Human the Death Dance came out, the thread of those bolts were undoubtedly stripped. Your boy Thoma$ Hank$ would call this another case of 'two classic album syndrome.' It holds fairly true, across each genre: Eminem had Slim Shady then Marshall Mathers, The Flaming Lips with The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi, et all. Sage pulled out all the stunts, jumping a record set of buses on Hope and Distrust, the vocal effects and song structures that were used on those set him up for failure here. He could no longer use those old school background hype sounds, he stretched metaphors of God, death, the sun and moon, among other things, and his hip-hop reference base was exhaustingly devoured. Human, then, finds him in a fireball at the bottom of a canyon in disarray, waiting for an EMT to swoop through.

HTDD begins in the same vein as Distrust to much applause. The first sound is the same opening of 2Pac's 7 Day Theory (rung church bell, where supposedly a voice says "Suge shot him," though I haven't heard or read anything underlying in Sage's version about an impending bullet shower), and is fitting in so far as the canvas he continually paints upon has to do with, simply enough - death. The rest of the intro, as well as "Underground for Dummies" ("I'm the d-i-y artist with thick grass roots," as well as contradictory statements of his melatonin) finds Paul Francis at varying ages of youth rhyming, in an effort to prove his hip-hop-icity, a point he has been hollering about each album, as if people don't believe by now he has gained respect of his peers (honestly, doggie, if you don't by now, you never will).

Up through track five, the tempo is kept as high as anything on his previous effort. "Civil Obedience" is Francis at his most political, slugging the listener with jab after jab.
"Got Up This Morning," produced by cowboy boot rockin' Buck 65 with vocals by the folksy Jolie Holland (whom Sage had been touring with), is typical emo (yes, I will keep calling you emo, Sage) fare, over cavernous howls and harmonica/guitar lines. His flow is as keen as ever, wading in the beat that wanes and flares accordingly.

Where the album's wheels fall off, contrary to reviews from both Urb and Pitchfork, is it's uneven-ness that follows. With drum-less tracks from some upcoming Edward Norton movie thrown in, I am left discomforted. "Good Fashion"(one of said tracks) is followed by a song that could have been produced by Eminem (ugh), "Clickety Clack," with its "The Way I Am" drum sound/structure, and odd fitting flows -- though the words are nice enough. He nearly goes to the Conor Oberst extreme with interludes, taking up extended periods of time before several tracks with young Sage raps, and an intro about broccoli, which works better on stage as entertainment than it does wasting a half minute of my life on a record.

Still self-deprecating and intricate, Sage does what many, if not any at all, other rappers can't - he sounds good while being introspective. "Hell of a Year" is evidence of the difference between why it works less here than in the past. He has become increasingly self indulgent, to an extent that a wall becomes built between artist and consumer, rather than being those universialities that consumer can apply to hirself.

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