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Dälek - Absence

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Artist: Dälek

Album: Absence

Label: Ipecac

Review date: Jan. 12, 2005

If the Metal Machine Music of hip-hop hasn’t been made before now, this is it. Absence doesn’t depart from Dälek’s previous two records (1998’s Negro Necro Nekros and 2002's From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots) so much as it distills their harshest, most confrontational elements.

Anyone who’s ever heard those two albums knows that’s saying a lot. Among well-known hip-hop artists, New Jersey’s Dälek have always been most similar to El-P – both favor huge, noisy textures. Unlike El-P, though, Dälek have never shown any interest in microphone gymnastics or complex beats, preferring instead to explore waves of noise inspired by groups like Sonic Youth and Flying Saucer Attack. (That description may remind you somewhat of Clouddead's self-titled album, but Dälek is far nastier.) Sonic Youth and FSA are pretty uncompromising themselves, of course, and they’re pretty unusual influences for a hip-hop group, but what really sets Dälek apart is that they background the beats and rhymes that would be in the foreground in almost all other hip-hop. Even at their most accessible (Negro’s “Swollen Tongue Bums,” From Filthy Tongue’s “Speak Volumes”), Dälek is a pretty extreme group.

Absence differs from Dälek’s previous albums in that almost all the catchy bits are absent until the tail end of the record, when “Ever Somber” rides a very My Bloody Valentine-style hook. Before that, Absence is almost defiantly loud – nearly every track features a huge coat of noise that screams from the speakers. The album is also more stylistically unified than Dälek’s previous efforts – there aren’t any of the obvious experiments with Indian music that Dälek used to attempt, and nothing on Absence features live guitars and drums like From Filthy Tongue did. It’s hard to imagine anyone making an album more abrasive than this that’s still recognizable as hip hop (I’m sure someone will do it, but it’s still hard to imagine). Like Metal Machine Music, Absence is startling and fantastic sounding, and it can make most music from the genre from which it sprang seem frivolous, if you’re in the right mood.

About that: Dälek’s lyrics are very concerned with the state of hip hop. Apparently, Dälek (“Dälek” refers to the group as well as the group’s MC) finds it appalling: “Who trades his culture for dollars, the fool or the scholar?” he asks in his trademark slow but urgent flow. “Half-assed crews crowd these streets.” If there’s anything I dislike about Absence, it’s that these lyrics are completely redundant. Of course Dälek is dissatisfied with hip hop – it’s obvious from the music, which screams “NO!” at the existing order. I don’t intend for my endorsement of Dälek to necessarily be an endorsement of his views of hip-hop culture, but the group possesses the desire for change that is at the heart of much great music. Absence is wonderful.

By Charlie Wilmoth

Other Reviews of Dälek

From Filthy Tongue Of Gods And Griots

Abandoned Language

Deadverse Massive Vol. 1: Dälek Rarities 1999-2006

Gutter Tactics

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View all articles by Charlie Wilmoth

Find out more about Ipecac

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