The front cover of Endangered Philosophies is like a picture someone could just tweet and lazily caption: #2017. It’s a scene of deranged wrongness, arrows shooting into the hide of a screaming wild cat trampling on buried heads, with a house engulfed in flames. Squint and you could easily imagine a US flag on the cat’s back, or someone would do that on Photoshop a few posts later.
Dälek’s eighth album is another warning flare by the New Jersey act from hip-hop’s outer limits – the kind of album the US deserves as a soundtrack right now. Endangered Philosophies follows 2016’s Asphalt For Eden, which was a comeback of sorts after a six-year break – six years in which acts like Death Grips and CLPPNG built on Dälek’s exploration of hip-hop through an avant-garde industrial noise prism. It’s another disorienting swirl of gravelly sound collages and MC Dalek’s worldview, somewhere between protest and gutted resignation.
I first came across Dälek in 2003 in Glasgow, hunting them out as the first hip-hop band on Mike Patton’s label Ipecac. They played the now-defunct Barfly venue, with MC Dälek, producer Oktopus and DJ Still making as much noise as any other band on the label, Fantomas included.
- Dälek in Glasgow, 2003
Support on the night was from a guy calling himself Destructo Swarmbots, whose live show involved basically walking onstage, ritualistically turning every single dial on his amps and pedals up full and thrashing the shit out of his guitar in a uniform motion for about 20 minutes until his strings started breaking, one by one. The set was over when they were all gone, and the last one took a while. The good news is that Destructo Swarmbots aka Mike Manteca is the new dalek producer, replacing Oktopus, while rEK is the new DJ in place of DJ Still.
In other good news, Dälek’s high-density collage sonics are still present, with samples stacked so tightly they start smudging, like Public Enemy folded over in some sort of William Basinski tape loop experiment. This white noise is offset by tense electronic ambience, shoegaze guitar textures, melancholy synths and buried samples of US protest chants.
Opener Echoes Of… is another route 1 headbutt, with rusty oil drum beats and everything distorted, in the red. Few Understand is another ferric, head-down fuzz, with scratching and samples nudging it towards hip-hop convention. Sacrifice is another slight concession to the old school, with a piano motif that RZA might’ve nicked himself.
More often, though, there’s a dense, foundry floor fug about the whole thing, and the album’s instrumental centrepiece A Collective Cancelled Thought may offer a respite from Dalek’s rage against police brutality, the divided States and the rise of anti-intellectualism (and Trump by proxy), but the lack of rhymes really only highlights the dissonance and bleakness between the beats.
Still, on album closer, Dälek puts forward the idea: “Gotta say what we all hoping / Explosive time will get the illest mind’s open / this is gonna change me, this is gonna change you… this has gotta change.” It ends with a joyous gospel/protest sample of “power to the people.” It’s a rare pinhole of hope, or at least a resignation that things can’t get much worse.