15 May, 2010@6:18 am
There are a lot of people trying to do what Sage Francis does really well. One of the fundamental problems with the indie hip-hop movement was that it allowed anyone with a computer to attempt to make a name for themselves. Granted, this problem runs rampant in commercial hip-hop as well, but the underground was supposed to be a safe haven for fans who were sick of poor quality music being marketed as hip-hop. Where the problem lied, is that so many internet wierdoes came crawling out of the woodworks, that artists like Sage got negatively lumped in with the rest of them. The uninformed, untrained ear could not differentiate between an artist like Sage – who has a wealth of talent – and fifty other “artists” trying to be like him. This had a negative effect on the whole scene, killing it in the process. Suddenly, the term “backpacker” was looked at as a scarlet letter, not the legacy of Buckshot Shorty. That being said, Sage’s new LP Li(f)e is so against the grain of traditional hip-hop, yet still blindingly brilliant, that it’s going to make a whole bunch of people afraid to like it. We’re here to tell you that it’s okay.
The title of Sage’s fourth LP suggests his entire life has been a lie, and he seems to apply much of the reasoning due to organized religion. The Shepard Fairey commissioned album cover shows Sage illuminated in a golden light, from distance appearing as the visage of Christ himself; but a closer look finds Sage in the crosshairs, burning alive. The album starts with “Little Houdini”, but kicks into high gear on “Three Sheets To The Wind”, an uptempo, indie rock firestarter that finds Sage teaming with Death Cab guitarist Christopher Walla, trading rhymes and sung vocals in perhaps his best adaptation to the genre yet. “I Was Zero” is a little more closer to his older style, as he demonstrates incredible wordplay with clever double entrendres, while lambasting his apparent religious upbringing. This sentiment continues throughout much of the record, with words that many would cry as sacrilege, but Sage is indifferent as he speaks to an entity he believes isn’t there. “Diamonds and Pearls” is the most venomous track, as he feels decieved, but suggests “I ain’t mad at you / that’s the only miracle here.” Again on “Polterzeitgiest”, he weaves some of the album’s most poetical greatness, as he comes to terms with leaving his old system of beliefs behind.
Sage does venture outside the topic of religion from time to time, but still remains within the realm of his own life and times. “The Baby Stays” is a well written look at birth, where he directs an incredibly vivid short film on the topic, perhaps questioning his own existence in the process. This leads directly into “16 Years”, a gloomy, hypnotic track that finds him visiting some of these same themes, years later. But the album’s crown jewel, and perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his career thus far, as “The Best Of Times”. Here, Sage pens perhaps his most personal journal entry yet, over awe-inspiring production from French composer Yann Tierson, using his knack for intricate wordplay and animated visuals to keep the listener hanging off his every word. You’ll quickly forget that this song has no “boom-bap” by the end of it.
Interestingly, he does not delve too deeply into the political landscape this time around. However it’s pretty obvious where he stands, as many of these themes are juxtaposed within his overview of religion, making it unnecessary. Yet with today’s hot political climate, there are so many easy targets to fire at, we can only assume his uzi weighs a ton. Next album, maybe?
All in all, this may very well be the best LP of Sage’s career. He’s pulled back a bit from the over-experimental, making it easier to grasp exactly what he’s talking about. He’s shown us yet another side to his music, without sacrificing it’s integrity in any fashion. He’s learned to flawlessly combine the classic poetics of hip-hop with the fuller production of indie rock, never once does it sound forced. However listeners must be open to both genres before attempting to undertake Sage’s Li(f)e. That being said, if you can’t get down with the sounds of indie rock, this one will fly right over your head. Everyone else, all aboard.
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