EL-P ‘Cure 4 Cancer’ – album review

EL-P ‘Cure 4 Cancer’ (Fat Possum Records)
CD / LP / DL
Available 22 May 2012

EL-P offers a dystopian album of hip hop beats and sci-fi samples which give a darkly introspective listen while managing to also take a sly poke at the excess of the music industry.

Hip hop is almost a shameful thing to mention liking these days. This is not an entirely unjustified predicament either, as the rap industry has managed to not only cannibalise itself but also construct an overblown cartoon parody of what it once was.

The last ten years have seen what was once a prominent and significant musical genre become a glittering pantomime, which comprises greatly of simpletons listing their preferred shopping acquirements over gaudy, pseudo-electro beats.

In other more allegedly ”˜dangerous’ areas of the scene, anyone still foolish enough to still be promoting gang culture, when even the most outspoken advocates of that particular way of life have expressed regret over doing so, is clearly blind to the damage that it is causing in everyday America and so where do we go from here?

The popularity of hip hop stemmed not only from the music, fashion and culture of the late 1970’s but also of having something to say. That’s the major problem with a lot of the modern artists, they’re too comfortable.

Hip Hop was about striving for something; it was about thoughtful, provocative verses, intent on allowing us to examine ourselves socially, culturally and intellectually. Ok, so there was a fun side to it all as well, but it seems that, along the way, the party kept going and no-one realized that there were any other elements to it all.

One man who has plenty to say is EL-P (AKA Jamie Meline). In the 10 years since his debut solo album ”˜Fantastic Damage’ was released, he has taken Hip Hop to a darker, more introspective place and we are all the better for that.

This week saw the release of ”˜Cancer 4 Cure’, an album dedicated to his friend and musical associate Camu Tao, who passed away in 2008 from lung cancer at only 30 years old. This record takes us into a chilling, dystopian world in which EL-P serves as our only guide, and he doesn’t seem too concerned that we make it out the other side unscathed.

Opening with a William S Burroughs quotation and hurling us straight into an environment constructed of dark break beats set to science fiction samples, the repetitive chants of ”˜Not for you’ provoke images of exclusion and control.

Before we are provided with a chance to get comfortable, we are presented with ”˜The Full Retard’ a knowingly provocative and acerbic deconstruction of the ridiculousness that is ubiquitous in modern hip hop. The video was released on Friday (30/05/12) and goes even further to satirise the childish excess which has permeated the industry.

There is an almost military precision to the shadowy template of ”˜Drones over Bklyn’, which ends in a prolonged guitar solo which is reminiscent of the one which Trent Reznor plays towards the end of ”˜Ruiner’ (on Nine Inch Nails‘ ”˜The Downward Spiral’ album). EL-P collaborated with Reznor in 2007 for the track ”˜Flyentology’ one of the highlights of his superb last album ”˜I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead’.

There are parallels which can be drawn between ”˜Downward Spiral’ and ”˜Cancer 4 Cure’; both are visions of a damaged, cold and dangerous world. In ”˜To my Upstairs Neighbor’, a conversation takes place between a man and the police in which he is being questioned about the demise of someone in the apartment above his. The apathy and resentment towards his interrogators display all too clearly the sense of big city insularity and mistrust of the authorities in a post ”˜Occupy’ era.

For fans of EL-P there is much on offer here, for newcomers, it is highly recommended that you allow the album to be presented as a whole. It is the first time in many years that I have listened to a hip hop album the whole way through and regarded it as having no filler.

There is a sequence, flow and consistency to this which makes it one of the musical highlights of the year so far. The listener is left with the impression that this is far from over, on the contrary, it appears that EL-P is only beginning to verbalise all of the points he wants to make.

You can follow EL-P on Twitter.

All words by Colin McCracken. You can read more from Colin on Louder Than War here, on his website or find him on Twitter.



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