Review Summary: "You are calm. Quiet. Peaceful. Drowsy. Sleepy. Calm. Quiet. Very drowsy. Very sleepy. And going still deeper, and deeper."
It was already unexpected for Brooklyn rap vet Ka to suddenly put out the collaborative EP 1200 B.C.
with producer Preservation mid-last year, but what’s even more of a surprise is the duo now following-up on an ambiguous announcement of an album in the works by adopting the moniker “Dr. Yen Lo” and releasing what seems to be a loose concept album. As per usual with Ka, information surrounding this project is at a minimum, but Days With Dr. Yen Lo
appears to be inspired by the character of the same name from The Manchurian Candidate
, a 1962 Cold War film that is frequently sampled throughout the album and has a plot centered around brainwashing.
Similar themes of hypnosis and paranoia prove to be a heavy influence on not only Ka’s verses, but Preservation’s production as well. The album is a departure from the crisp and mellow piano jazz sound provided as no more than an appetizer on 1200 B.C.
, and shows Preservation channeling dusty blues rock, subdued soul, psychedelic music, vintage film scores, and more avant-garde forms of jazz to introduce a suitably entrancing, hypnotic, and ominous atmosphere for Ka to slink his way through.
Details such as every track being named after what seem to be randomly numbered “days” spent with Yen Lo (ranging from 0 to 1125 and arranged hopelessly out of numerical order) give off the impression that the album’s concept must have a notable prominence, but Ka himself never addresses the concept prevalently in his lyrics. Despite there being a big idea constantly nudging, Ka continues to delve into the typical detached and reflective tales of the NYC streets that he’s been rhyming about since his debut, and this lack of direct engagement with the concept results in a puzzling and unsatisfying listening experience where the overall point of the ideas at large behind this project is in question.
Other issues arise among the beats. There’s plenty to appreciate in how diverse the approaches are to the soundscapes across Days With Dr. Yen Lo
, but it’s all very less consistent than the sound of 1200 B.C.
, and much like the ordering of the individually numbered “days,” the songs are all very out of place and don’t follow each other in a smooth sequence. For example, “Day 3” is absolutely dripping with foreboding tension, but the breezy grooves of the subsequent track “Day 1125” completely undermine all of its unsettling currents.
All in all, however, the shining moments of this album really do lie in its intricacies, like the simmering of the eerie synths that open the album in “Day 0” and later bring it to a close in “Day 912,” not to mention the tremulous, transcendental chimes of “Day 70,” the quivering Hammond organ and weeping guitars in “Day 22,” the wistful tone brought on by the brewing police sirens at the end of “Day 93,” and the swaggering feature from Roc Marciano that pleasantly comes straight out of the blue amid the abrupt squeals of noise on “Day 81.” Ka’s near-monotone delivery has always made it sound like he was in a sort of trance, so all of these hypnotic musical qualities complement his regularly understated flow on a more thematic level than ever before and accentuate the rapper’s hushed, paranoid, and claustrophobic delivery.
Days With Dr. Yen Lo
can be frustratingly vague and bemusing, but it’s still quite a fascinating experience. An experience that will hopefully reveal more about itself as more days with the good doctor come to pass.