This is a tough album to review for me, for about a million reasons. But let’s start with the fact that people always yell at me for how much I dislike/don’t understand/don’t appreciate the avant-garde. You know like that urinal? Duchamp? Yeah, that stuff, I’m the person in the museum looking extremely skeptical. On the other hand, I am a complete snob when it comes to surrealist painting. It’s hard to explain why one is horrible and the other is magnificent, but this is the essence of taste.
Dälek’s album is the first musical experience I’ve had that mixes my feelings for the avant garde (confusion and panic) with my feelings for the surreal (awe and curiosity). Now, as a result of that, I’m probably not the best person to review it. I like hip-hop crossing over into electronic and other exploration, but the industrial sound of this album is mostly foreign to me, so I will have a hard time describing what it’s like.
So what IS Gutter Tactics? It’s definitely hip-hop, of the independent and/or underground flavor. It’s definitely political – requisite Bush-bashing (I LOVE YOU OBAMA!!!!!), recording of Jeremiah Wright, statements about race, music, life, death, and all the robust themes of underground rap abound. There’s a track with Medgar Evers’ name in the title. Enough said.
It’s also avant-garde, in the sense that there few straightforward “beats” of the drum-and-bass variety on this album. This is industrial hip-hop if there could be such a thing. It reminds me of a softened, electrified hip-hop predecessor to grunge music. There are moments where it is positively incoherent musically, and there are moments where is haunting and enveloping. The intros in the songs are very long, and sometimes it can feel like taking a bath in interference.
Let’s start with the bad news. I couldn’t understand a lot of the lyrics on this album. I tried. I tried turning the music up but then I heard more of the fuzzy background noise and interference and distant metallic squeaking noises – the words underneath just slip by on some tracks, especially “Who Medgar Evers Was,” and “A collection of miserable thoughts laces with wit,” the title track “Gutter Tactics” and portions of some others. This might be my deficiency, but I struggled to pick up on the some of the content. In some of the songs MC Dälek doesn’t “rap” per se, but speaks. Sometimes it sounds like very somber spoken words behind an intricate but extremely creepy series of background noises.
But there is plenty of good news. There are moments on this album that are absolutely genius; the intro track, “Blessed Are They Who Bash Your Children’s Heads Against A Rock” plays Jeremiah Wright’s famed “chickens coming home to roost” sermon. This is genius. There are moments, like the first 30 seconds of “Los Macheteros” which are HUGE. Just HUGE. They grab you. Most of these moments for me were unfortunately not laced with deep respect for the actual hip hop or melody, but there were in deep awe of the originality and daring of this album and this duo.
I must say that this music will not be for everyone; it was not for me in a lot of portions. But it is appropriate in its own way, though I think it makes only an uneasy friend with hip hop, though it is still clearly a hip hop album. My skepticism of the avant-garde wants to judge Dälek for trying to mess with my mind and then turn around and all me uneducated, uninformed, and uncool (which I’m sure they wouldn’t do, but they might, I’m not sure) when in fact the music is just hard to listen to. On the other hand, my love for the surreal really comes out here too. I can feel what they’re doing, I like the message, I am taken aback in an interesting way by the medium.
All in all it ain’t easy listening, but it’s good for you!
Posted by Lally Gartel at Feb 02, 2009 11:37 PM