Sunday, July 27, 2014

Shabazz Palaces - Lese Majesty Review

There's something other-worldly about Lese Majesty. I say that as if there's any question, because, to be frank, there isn't. From the mind of Palaceer Lazaro, better known as Ishmael Butler, the 45 minute galactic journey is so compressed, dense & detailed that hearing anything else like it doesn't come around often. There's still some doubt in my mind that Shabazz Palaces' new endeavor formulated in their home studio Protect and Exalt Labs in Seattle, rather than a distant echo from the reverberations of a future Earth, overran & consumed by a mixture of computerized glitches & organic static from a land long gone. Take the intro, Dawn In Luxor, & the closer, Sonic MythMap For The Trip Back, for instance. The former utilizes a diluted, warped ping-pong-esque jolting sound to wake our lone rhythmic lead into consciousness, while the latter suffocates him, not in a drowning bass, but a few unaffected water drops, returning us to a land owned by no man, no crown, no majesty. Shabazz Palaces' latest LP succeeds immensely in reminding us of a time, past & future, un-governed by humans, while simultaneously making an elaborate critique on current culture so enveloped with the ego of the self. 

Before the asphyxiating production dawns on you with Forerunner Foray, the first thing many will notice is the unorthodox flows & lyrics presented to them on the opener. Speaking to NPR, Butler discussed the cryptic dialogue within the album relating to the ego-centric human & how people are "being more concerned about themselves — especially in the rap game, bragging about material things — rather than doing what I think music is really here to do: to unite people . . . We basically wanted to attack that philosophy sonically & with the content of our music." With the sounds exhaustively working behind the scenes it's easy to miss, or miss-interpret, Butler's intricate lyrics. Regardless, the blanketed message is clear; rebelling against societal  norms composed & fabricated by the leaders of the world while persuading listeners to find their inner-selves. Take the lines, "throwing cocktails at the Furher" & "they'll never touch the carpets" off Colluding Oligarchs. The former from the view of anarchists, the latter a hasty response from the arrogant King himself. Both challenge the status quo, something this album does in spades. It's these elaborate re-tellings, told with Butler's glossy-smooth flows, that add yet another layer of depth to Lese Majesty, a layer that exists on top of something so complex by it's own merits that replay-ability in deciphering the LP is near limitless. See, #CAKE & its mockery on our consumerist culture.

In many ways, that's how Shabazz's production sounds here, endless. Defining such a work as Hip-Hop would shamefully trivialize its parts. While influences seem bare considering the duo's proclamation of creativity & originality, I can reasonably liken Lese Majesty in equal respects to Afrika Bambaataa, Boards Of Canada, & Kanye West; a sentiment to the genre-defining composition found here. The progression throughout, carrying Butler's voice, sways and swivels. His appearance acts more as another instrument for the production to fiddle with. At times, he's dominating, alluring his lost love in Noetic Noiromantics, in others he's lost himself amongst the rubble, as with Suspicion Of A Shape. In nearly all cases the production, fluctuating constantly, never remaining stagnant, is some of the freshest, most inventive of the year, with hidden signals fading in & out of oblivion for the listener to enjoy anew, finding new sounds each spin. See Solemn Swears. Disappointedly short, filled with ludicrously fun wordplay ("I'm coming up like Donald Duck, I scream & yell like Samuel L"), and yet so deep, like a hollow cavern as you freely cascade down into it's watery depths. Following the earthy beat is Harem Aria, a joyous love song with the sounds soaring into the skies, free to caress the clouds. 

As mentioned before, the progression of Lese Majesty may be its strongest element. Tracks flow seamlessly between each other, as was meant to be the case with the layout of the album, divided into seven like-minded suites with similar sonic foundations. Vocal samples of unknown origins scatter themselves between the seams of the pressing as instruments transition between movements, unsure of their own placement. Highs are scattered throughout, not overwhelming enough to bog down their initial goal, and not sparse enough to bore listeners. The first stellar moment comes in at They Come In Gold's opening, with a distorted vocal sampling similar to An Echo from Black Up gluing together the beat, becoming one of the biggest bangers of the year, regardless of how ludicrous that sounds. Down 155th in the MCM Snorkel's closing moments, sounding remarkably similar to Yung Lean's style of autotuned swag, is as shocking as it is brilliantly done. And lastly, the finale of #CAKE, with its momentous build-ups careens across the speakers as Butler calls out cities across the globe. Case in point, Lese Majesty never seems to bore, it simply excites, through the outstanding variations & qualities of production. Throughout all of this is the defining essence of Palaces' music; the revival of black righteousness, or at least a representation of it. From the title of their debut Black Up, to Youlogy's statement "things are looking blacker, but black is looking whiter," Shabazz isn't afraid to show off their African heritage. It's present here too, on the opener Butler hails "black is abstracted and protracted by the purest," as he makes a bold claim of repression of the black community by the rich elite. 

There's many factors in Lese Majesty that wash over you; it's an overwhelming sensory experience, with sounds of all wavelengths and lyrical signals from all walks of life spanning the 18-song collection. However, all that glitters is not gold. While the lavish album is filled with dazzling soundscapes, a few falter beneath the album's threshold. The Ballad Of Lt. Maj. Winnings is rather dull, especially following the album's six stellar opening tracks, and New Black Wave, despite its similar complexities in comparison to other rapping tracks, falters in instilling intrigue, something many others latch onto. A few others here, such as the trio of Colluding Oligarchs, Suspicion Of A Shape, & MindGlitch KeyTar Theme, I can see boring some, especially those anticipating more Butler rapping as was on Black Up. But such isn't the case here, as Lese Majesty is more an indulgence and risk into broadening & dismantling genre lines, pushing what confines us to enjoy sub-sects of something that, at the end of the day, is just sound our ears interpret. Remarkable segments, fascinating highs and low, complexion and density unlike anything heard in Hip-Hop in recent memory, Shabazz Palaces' newest effort is a stunning revelation of musical brilliance. It's a time capsule from the future, told to us through the lone survivor who dug it up as computers and the atmosphere consume him. 

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