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Abandoned Language

Rating: 9.9/10 ?

May 24, 2007
Whereas the traditioinal bread and butter of Dälek's business has been in dealing monolithic slabs of sound, the Newark duo's third album for the noise-based Ipecac imprint finds them employing their arsenal of tactical tools with a palpable measure of restraint. In truth, were any number of other outfits to table a work like Abandoned Language the word restraint would hardly be applicable, but for MC dälek (lowercase d for the dude, uppercase D for the duo) and producer Oktopus, the two heads behind the caterwaul of "Black Smoke Rises" (a particularly vicious cut from From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots), this album is a departure.

As odd as it may be to consider, the fact of the matter is that dälek and Oktopus have matured, this time around preferring to seduce rather than subdue. The seething, gristled walls of sound exemplified by tracks like Absence's "In Midst of Struggle" have been torn down, the blocks spread out and restacked in new, tight, mazelike formations. From the spongy, rap-centric grip of "Bricks Crumble" to the beautiful, scratched melodies of "Tarnished," Abandoned Language is downright scholarly. These motherfuckers need to teach something, somewhere. Get someone from Juilliard on the phone.

For the first time ever the vocals are pushed high in the mix and many of the tracks feel somewhat led by them, but longtime Dälek followers, those who have weathered the distorted synth wails and brutal percussive buckling from way back in the Gern Blandsten days, should take heart in knowing that Oktopus' free-form noise explorations have not been vanquished, they've just been moderated by the Rooseveltian approach of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Near the album's midpoint the established flow is leveed by the fucked-up instrumental of "Lynch," a creepy symphony of interference that is dead-on perfect for the score to any of the director's bizarre dimensional shifts, replete with piercingly dissonant strings. There are glimpses of the trademark Dälek din in the mirrors of other tracks as well, but only glimpses; "Lynch" is followed by "Stagnant Waters," arguably the most hip-hop cut the pair have produced, buoyed by a sensible beat and with dälek's vocals clearly discernable in the foreground.

In the past, Dälek's albums have been so brusque, so immediate, that one could hardly have expected them to deliver a creeper album. But that is what Abandoned Language is, an album that grows and grows with repeated listens. There are tasty nuggets ripe for easy picking - anyone with a flavor for DJ Shadow's finest moments will certainly appreciate Rob Swift's turntable work on "Paragraphs Relentless," the joint's underlying groove is virally infectious and dälek's lyrical flow is tight enough to have Chuck D's head chicken bobbing - but for the most part it takes a little time to see around all its corners, even for someone intimately familiar with their style. The spatial separation between the album's elements, which previously would have been compressed into one thick pancake of noise, allows for a dissection that simply isn't possible with the pair's back catalogue. Distinct elements have always been identifiable within Dälek cuts, but they were packed so tightly together that everything still felt uniform. Here, however - from the weird, psychedelic cinematics and Endtroducing bent of "Content To Play Villain" to the downright beautiful "Isolated Stare" (which runs for 4:20 as a soft, sweeping instrumental before dälek's verse kicks in) - sounds are given room to breathe and interact, room to develop detailed relationships with each other, and therein lies Abandoned Language's most compelling facet.

Reviewed by Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other reviews by Eric J Herboth



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