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Ever since my exposure to Dälek back in the winter of 2000, i have been mightily impressed with the work of this hip-hop trio. Yes, that's right -- i am actually speaking out in favor of a hip-hop act. Get over it. Dälek make a fascinating noise, and aren't like any hip-hop act you have ever heard before.

For one thing, they are angry. Or, rather, Dälek the rapper is angry, and his tone influences the act's entire work. Dälek is angry about, well, you name it. He is angry about the (mis)treatment of African Americans in this country, about how religion has been used to blind people and control them, and about the overcommodification of the hip-hop culture, which is a symptom of how capitalism by its very nature destroys unique cultures through absorption and dilution. Those are the main themes i can detect from the words that i can sort out, but he is probably angry about a lot of other stuff too.

Another thing that is different about Dälek the band is the work of turntablist Still and producer Octopus. Together the two of them back Dälek's furious rants with a dark swirling mess of sound. The music is recognizable as hip-hop, but just barely. There is scratching here and there, and the beats are loud, head bopping, and in the front, but the rest of the sounds are noisy and chaotic. You are more likely to hear Still and Octopus play with samples of overdriven guitar than you are to hear them sample an old soul classic. A case in point is the tune Koner, which is an instrumental track: four minutes of drones and strange washes of sound. It's almost psychedelic, but in a dark way; more Syd Barrett than Sgt. Pepper's i guess. The overall effect of this song is like something off of an early Landing album, or something by James Plotkin, or one of the darker tunes by Monolake. It's not like anything you would expect to hear on a hip-hop album, and yet it fits in really well with the overall flow of the record.

It's really hard to describe the work of Dälek, because the music is so dense. However, two tracks on Absence really stand out to me. The first is Culture for Dollars, and this is a real standout track not just on this album, but in all of Dälek's career to date. It starts with a strange grating noise that pans back and forth between the headphones then fades out mysteriously. Immediately a beat starts, grows, is joined by some scratching and eerie keyboard drones, and then by some My Bloody Valentine style fuzzed out guitar. It's close to two minutes before Dälek even starts rapping, and the song just keeps growing from there. This is a real tour de force from the band, and showcases just what the can do in a very good light. The music is tight, catchy, angry, dark, dense, and beautiful. The song grows in unexpected ways, and is a delight to listen to.

The second song i want to mention also features a wall of noise that reverberates like My Bloody Valentine. This song is called Ever Somber, and it adds a really funky beat and a melancholy rap over a noise that Kevin Shields would be proud to call his own. It's truly lovely.

However, the fact that I have mentioned just a few of the tracks here does not mean that the others are weak. It is just that those are the cream of the crop, and the others are good, but just, well, much harder to describe. One thing about this album: as with all Dälek albums it is so dense that it takes several listens to get into it. I would recommend not listening all the way through at once, at least not at first. Just take a few songs at a time. Let the groove, the noisy drones, and the angry raps have time to seep into your consciousness. Eventually you will be reaching for this album with a real sense of appreciation.

Dälek are doing something truly unique, and for that i am thankful. The question i ask myself is: is this their best album to date? Well, it certainly is their most accessible, i think. There are no truly bizarre ten minute songs like there were on their previous two discs. The songs here stick to the six minute or under mark and have a relatively normal song structure. I dunno how to answer the question, really.

Overall, well, i don't know what to say. I don't know if Absence will appeal to the average hip-hop fan. I suspect that people who like Eminem might not understand this. And i also suspect that hardcore My Bloody Valentine fans will be turned off by the harshness of the vocals. Still, this is unique stuff, and it is very rewarding to the dedicated listener. Dälek continue to hold my attention. I wonder what they will do next.

Related Links:
  From the Filthy Tounges of Gods and Griots, the previous Dälek release.  

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