#90: Dälek, Absence (2005)
is a lot of what I don’t like about hip-hop. It finds its sonic roots in industrial music, it is lengthy, and it’s political in the worst way--only vaguely, setting its sight on immense topics like the “permanent underclass” but without any specific contentions or alliances to show for it. It’s one of those “thanks, but no thanks” albums, impressive but simply speaking on a level to which I am not usually attuned. There’s something more interesting about Absence
than my casual dismissal, though: it is, like Illmatic
(1994) and Endtroducing.....
(1996) before it, a completely singular vision of hip-hop. Unlike those two hardened classics, however, Absence
was never really picked up on by a larger audience, its aesthetic never mainlined into any circles outside its hyper-specific niche.
This weirdly enough makes the album much easier to appreciate. Were unrelenting tracks like opener “Distorted Prose” (for my money the best one on here) and “A Beast Caged” portents of hip-hop to come, I might find Absence
frankly annoying. But as a standalone experiment its strengths are highlighted, its weaknesses muted. Sometimes literally: on the nearly eight-minute beast “In Midst of Struggle,” MC Dälek is positively drowned out by a monstrous beat, and I get the sense it’s better that way. He peddles a very particular type of “intellectual” rap that at the very least is not as eye-rollingly preachy or awkward as others of its type, but still: this is rap music about Reaganomics and Gnostics in equal measure, and for whatever self-hating reason, that’s that shi
t I don’t like.
At the very least, MC Dälek, never the most engaging or likable frontman, seems to recognize that anger--whether political or personal--is not a phenomenon of merely the intellect but is something felt all around. “Mad at everything” may be his only mode here, but it’s employed convincingly, the drums cracking with fury, feedback billowing like puffs of smoke in a post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Absence
’s anger is so wide-lensed, so all-encompassing that it can serve as a sort of musical template for any given bad mood. Again: as an ongoing musical trend, this kind of approach might grate. As a standalone release, however, the album is a success, albeit an unusually narrow one, tapping repeatedly into its single creative vein and sucking it violently of its resources. For these 57 cacophonous, iconoclastic, and more than anything loud
minutes, that singular aim is enough.