Tuesday, September 6, 2005
"Unless whatever it is that you build is based on truth, you will end with the entire structure fallen and scattered about - it simply cannot stand."
So intones the documentarian's voice at the outset of Displacement, the new album by Lawrence's iD and Sleeper.
On any other left-of-center hip-hop album this would sound like a direct barb, with the industry, fake rappers and other scourges to purists being the obvious target. On this particular album, however, it's just the creed embraced by Sleeper and iD. It barely scratches the surface of the disc's content, but explains its dense body. This is not hip-hop for the sake of hip-hop; it's music for the undeniability of expression.
When not in the lab melding beats together, Sleeper inks people up at a local tattoo studio, which speaks volumes about how his music sounds. Murky, expressive and penetrating, songs like "Balance" and the loping two-step of "Right There" leave an indelible mark on the eardrums. It's difficult to tell whether hip-hop, metal, shoegaze or IDM has affected Sleeper's beat aesthetic more; the dirty-bomb composition of Company Flow's "Funcrusher Plus" is the closest antecedent.
Much of the album might sound the same upon the first few spins, but the songs eventually separate to reveal that diversity is definitely a part of Sleeper's craft. Check the dream keys on "Hungry Ghost" or the way a persistent electronic burst drops away to reveal beautiful strings puffing for the apex on "Chained." The sell on all of the beats, though, is that Sleeper has one belief about drums: they should sound dirty and mighty, which anchors every composition here. Those who've had their ear to the ground for a minute now will be pleased to see the inclusion of Sleeper's "Abraxas" as the disc's closer, a keeper from an earlier EP.
iD maintains his almost singer-songwriterly knack for turning a group of insignificant words into a meaningful phrase. When he says "I want a light to live in/I want to share my vision/Don't want to make mine something it isn't," it sounds less like a diary page and more like a call to arms.
Whether taking the Holden Caulfields of the world to task on "Catcher" or ruminating on the shackles of the modern condition on "Chained," iD can still ride a beat with both care and ferocity - there's no room for mumble-speak or overexertion in his flow. The lyrical content here is a journey through the things most of us are too busy to ignore or too stubborn to admit; ID acts as both traveler and guide on these fifteen pathways, asking "You're still searching? / See that you must fall apart and understand before we can turn this back.
While its cohesiveness may turn off casual listeners, patient heads will wait for Displacement's rewards, which lie in the spots where Sleeper and iD unite in crashing the consciousness slowly. There have been several local hip-hop releases as of late that have reset the bar in a number of ways, that bar becomes irrelevant here; music and message simply push each other to become better. Standing with their feet firmly planted in a structure entirely theirs, iD & Sleeper burn candles and pontificate avidly, waiting for others to find their own truth and report back.