It doesn’t really take a whole lot of thought to see the need for politically-charged rap in this cultural moment. Better writers than I have waxed poetic plenty on this point, so I’ll keep it short and to the point: when we live in an era where governments around the globe seek to invalidate and ruin the lives of ethnic minorities simply because they have dared to exist on this earth, and where the arts are undergoing a massive renaissance due to the constant, all-encompassing dissemination of information and culture through the internet, political art is absolutely necessary. In fact, in such a point in time, every part of the zeitgeist becomes political, and when action becomes necessary, being apolitical and choosing to “just stay out of it” becomes as much a political choice as any other.
Such a climate – primed for rebellion both from an artistic and political perspective – is the climate in which a musical project such as experimental hip hop trio Dälek (pronounced “die-a-leck”) thrives. Indeed, they are thriving: this year’s Endangered Philosophies comes just a year and a half after the excellent Asphalt for Eden, and where that release showed the newly-reformed group testing the water for a darker, dirtier, and more clouded sound than they’d previously attempted, this new batch of songs shows a committed force of resistance, a staunch juggernaut ready to use sound as a weapon for pulling the United States – and, indeed, the world at large – away from the ruinous path upon which it is headed.
For the uninformed, Dälek has never not been dark, clouded, obscured, experimental, et cetera. First formed in 1997, this trio of musicians – an MC, a DJ, and a synth player/sampler/plunderphonics artist – have always created dense music that fuses the political bent of rap with the aggressive moodiness of industrial, and shoegaze’s hazy simplicity. After a decade-long run of albums, the group took a hiatus in 2009, and although they never officially broke up, there was little hope of a future for the band. Flash forward to now: after releasing Asphalt for Eden last year to critical acclaim on Profound Lore, they’re putting out Endangered Philosophies through Ipecac Recordings and are currently on tour with Whores. and Cult of Luna. Talk about a comeback.
This new hour-long album certainly is not going to end this newfound winning streak for the group. Potentially Dälek’s moodiest, darkest, and most aggressive batch of songs to date, there’s a clear political and personal charge lurking behind Endangered Philosophies that lends the whole release a propulsive sense of anger and resentment towards the world at large. Cloudy, reverberating drums clang in the background as snippets of melody appear in flashes amidst the smoky distortion. Vocals are hidden behind a wall of melting, shifting concrete, but even from within the album’s omnipresent architecture the bitterness and desperation is readily apparent. This is urban chaos writ into music, a constant destruction and reformation of sound that moves in waves and shows off the roiling masses of people, smog, and noise that make up daily life.
Judging Dälek outside their spatiotemporal context is impossible, because the music of Endangered Philosophies is so closely tied to the moment within which it was made. That said, evaluated as what it is – a despondent musical “fuck-you” to the power structures of our modern age – it is evocative in all the right ways, and thus, wildly successful. As an emotional snapshot of the current zeitgeist, it is a resounding success that shows off the simmering anger and betrayal felt by millions worldwide as governments slide deeper into deadly right-wing extremism; as an album, Endangered Philosophies shows that Dälek absolutely made the right choice in coming off hiatus, and that the success of Asphalt for Eden was anything but a fluke. This is an excellent release by any definition of the term.
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Dälek releases Endangered Philosophies through Ipecac Recordings on the first of September. You can preorder it here.