By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots
Things in the high-rolling world of Jay-Z may not have changed much since Snoop first had his mind on his money and his money on his mind. But down in the underground, hip hop has become a mutable substance, remade by bedroom alchemists who are more interested in redefining its essence than reaffirming it. Stretching from the crunch of El-P's crushingly unfun productions to the sublimely stoned sprawl of Minneapolis's own Fog, underground hip hop is increasingly incorporating influences like folk and metal into some truly twisted tuneage.
New Jersey's Dälek are helping to resize the stakes of the game: Their new album is a dark-hued epic of blunted beats, seasick psychedelia, and savage avant-gardism that's as much My Bloody Valentine as Method Man. This trio, confusingly headed by an MC also named Dälek, have been proudly keeping their faces off BET since their daring 1998 debut Negro, Necro, Nekros, which melded noise-rock with pounding rhythms and went almost completely overlooked. (In part, this owed to its release on Gern Blandsten, a label known mostly for hardcore groups like Rorschach.) Their newest album, released on Mike Patton's Ipecac Recordings, finds the trio becoming deeper and darker. Their foundation, as before, is the interlocking of Dälek's gruff vocals, Still's intermittent turntables, and (most important) Oktopus's skillful production, which seriously rivals El-P's in its apocalyptic atmospheres, murky synth samples, and shards of fragmentary feedback.
The results can be spectacular, as in "Hold Tight," in which a heavy-as-plutonium beat battles a sea of guitar noise; or "Spiritual Healing," which features Dälek calmly intoning, "Why'd you blame me for blemishing the family tree?" until the fierce sonic backdrop collapses into a glitched-out stutter. In fact, Dälek are most impressive when they head into the most "out" territory, like the one-two punch of "Heads" and "Black Smoke Rises," the combination of which splices together heavy-metal outtakes, a lo-fi drum solo, and swaths of feedback into 14 minutes of truly tripped-out hip hop. Shockingly, Dälek are even better live. I caught one performance where they came awfully close to blowing out the sound system. But perhaps that's the best way to appreciate their sonic onslaught.