Review Summary: "Fallen House, Sunken City" is the first great hip-hop record of 2010. If you like your hip-hop spiked with Armageddon vitriol, then I can't recommend this highly enough.
Let's pretend for a moment that you've just recorded an album written from the perspective of the last surviving person on Earth: a lo-fi series of raps, poems, oddball reminiscences and assorted ravings condemning the system that mediated the fall of humanity. Where do you go from there? How do you follow the apocalypse? Well obviously, you let society rebuild itself, become repopulated with vampires, murderers and industrialists, and chastise humanity as it proceeds to devour itself yet again. Such is the way of rapper/slam poet Bernard Dolan.
Fallen House, Sunken City
is an apocalyptic manifesto, not unlike El-P's Fantastic Damage
, Mr. Lif's I, Phantom
or even Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero
. Over a series of gritty boom bap instrumentals (provided by indie beatmaker Alias), Dolan rails against capitalist greed (“50 Ways to Bleed Your Customer,” “Economy of Words”), civic indifference (“Kitchen Sink”), imperialistic expansionism (“Earthmovers,” “Border Crossing”) and the sheer inhumanity of mankind itself (“Marvin,” “Mr. Buddy Buddy”). Though not necessarily a concept album, Fallen House
does unravel like a totalitarian narrative. P.O.S. and Cadence Weapon show up on the anti-authoritarian posse cut "Fall of T.R.O.Y.," but otherwise, Dolan holds down the mic by himself, tearing into the capitalist infrastructure one track after another with astounding precision.
And don't take this guy for a lyrical featherweight just because of his poetry background either--Dolan can kill a mic just as well as any battler or punchline rapper working today. In fact, Fallen House
is not only a bitter state of the union address, it's also a reversion to the fundamentals of hip-hop. The beats consist of raw drum loops and piercing synths, and outside of the floating Marvin Gaye sample on "Marvin," I don't think there's any singing to be found on this album. For better or worse, it runs on virtuosic lyrical displays and hard-hitting beats. Speaking of which, Alias contributes some of the best instrumentals he's ever created, whether it's cosmic thump of "Earthmovers," the shapeshifting beat of "T.R.O.Y.," or the Funk Brothers exorcism on "Marvin." Considering that his recent work has had more in common with The Postal Service and Boards of Canada than Marley Marl and Ced Gee, I never
expected him to compose a series of straight-up bangers like this, much less that he'd succeed as excellently as he does.
In fact, the only issues with this album come from Dolan himself. While several of his criticisms and observations are dead-on, he occasionally resorts to "things are ***" generalizations and slam poet profundities (read: iridescent wank) that drag down the overall quality of the album. Also, while I'm usually cool with despairing subject matter, the cynicism on this album occasionally veers into full-blown insanity. “The Reptilian Agenda,” for example, argues that the global capitalist power structure is controlled by white-collar humanoid reptilians. I don't know if this song was intended as a joke, or if Dolan is really hiding in a bunker somewhere with a loaded shotgun and a tinfoil army helmet, but it sort of damages the album's credibility.
All the same, Fallen House, Sunken City
is the first great hip-hop record of 2010. If you like your hip-hop spiked Armageddon vitriol, then I can't recommend this highly enough.