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El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead

EL-P, I'll Sleep When You're Dead

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

PRODUCER, emcee, composer, musician and label boss El-P returns with a blistering wake-up call in the form of his second solo album, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead.

Four years in the making, the album is best described as a magnum opus and the purest distillation yet of El-P’s talents.

It’s been put together with a blatant disregard for genres and pigeon-holes and is, in El-P’s own words, his “post-traumatic stress album” documenting the political and personal turbulence of current times.

El-P has long been renowned for his boundary-smashing musical experimentation and I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is ample proof of how he continues to evolve as an artist.

It’s no ordinary hip-hop album. For sure, there’s plenty of collaborations – but whereas most mainstream artists employ a familiar role call from 50 Cent, The Game, Jamie Foxx and Snopp Dogg, El-P prefers to cast a wider net and incorporates the talents of Cat Power, Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Mars Volta and Matt Sweeney of Billy Corgan’s Zwan.

That’s not forgetting the likes of Cage, Aesop Rock and Mr Lif.

And while contemporary West Coast artists exist to drop grime-laden beats, Eastern influenced flutes and heavy, heavy beats, El-P mixes up the format. There are plenty of incendiary beats but they’re mixed with cinematic overtures, rock-influenced flourishes and anything else the artist can imagine.

What’s more, El-P himself continues to lay profound and urgent vocals over his own hugely original, gritty, dark and visceral compositions.

Album opener Tasmanian Pain Coaster is a thrilling blend of Mars Volta mixed with Matt Sweeney of Billy Corgan’s Zwan – hip hop beats collide spectacularly with electric guitar.

Up All Night is a funky concoction of energetic beats and rhythms that find El-P on irresistible form.

EMG drops a cheeky commercial break before some NWA-styled hip-hop beats hark back to old-skool genre values.

Glassjaw and Head Automatica founder and frontman Darryl Palumbo joins El-P in contributing vocals and bewitching piano to The Overly Dramatic Truth, another firm highlight.

And Trent Reznor lends a Nine Inch Nails vibe to lead single Flyentology, a heady brew of classic hip-hop values and industrial rock.

The League of Extraordinary Nobodies, meanwhile, delivers another gem wrapped up in a slower tempo and some more deliberate production values.

And the album is put to bed with El’s dystopian lullaby with singer/songwriter Cat Power [aka Chan Marshall], the woman behind 2006’s acclaimed album The Greatest. If anything, Poisenville Kids No Wins confirms that you’ve just been listening to a hip-hop album that’s a little bit special.

The only disappointments are a mid-section that threaten to conform to more generic values – harsh beats, harsh lyrics and a few too many similar characteristics.

But when it’s firing on all cylinders, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is a thrill ride of many, many highs.

Download picks: Poisenville Kids No Wins, The League of Extraordinary Nobodies, Flyentology, Tasmanian Pain Coaster, Up All Night

Track listing:

  1. Tasmanian Pain Coaster
  2. Smithereens (Stop Cryin)
  3. Up All Night
  4. EMG
  5. Drive
  6. Dear Sirs
  7. Run The Numbers
  8. Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love)
  9. The Overly Dramatic Truth
  10. Flyentology
  11. No Kings
  12. The League Of Extraordinary Nobodies
  13. Poisenville Kids No Wins / Reprise
  14. (This Must Be Our Time)