As you get older priorities shift and the world changes. Rent, bills, work, girlfriends, wives, kids, all of it consumes you. The idea of being completely creative or of pouring yourself into some piece of music simply because it moves you starts to fade like other childhood memories.
Justin Broadrick hasn’t forgotten that idea and he works to make us remember it to. His project Jesu has released Ascension, an album of such pure depressive beauty that it will consume you. If you have a heart, if your soul has been wounded or the life you live makes you question the choices you’ve made, in short, if you’re human, then Ascension will push its way into every part of you.
Coming from stints in Napalm Death as well as Godflesh, Broadrick’s earlier work on Hydra Head records was more akin to droning metal. It was anger in waves of rage held back simply by the sea of lush feedback. In recent years the Jesu work has come out on Calo Verde, a label owned by Red House Painters’ Mark Kozelek and the difference shows. Ascension is a stunning piece of music, a low-fi opera about depression and isolation. It ripples with the same bitterness as the early work, just not the anger.
Broadrick gives sound to these emotions and he finds beauty in them. That purity of pain when all seems lost, Jesu builds on that with Ascension using a structure that, for lack of a better term, filters particles. I say that because the work here is so filled with tiny dense parts, little particles of music that Broadrick is as much filtering them as he is creating them. Lush and melancholy sounds buried beneath oceans of slow, crawling sound.
It takes a certain type of spirit to appreciate Ascension. This isn’t an album for those who can’t remember or have never felt an absolute loss of hope. If you always land on your feet, if your days are numbered by incredible happiness, then Ascension may not be the album for you. You have to have sat on the precipice of absolute nothing, of total aloneness and have given yourself over to the idea of tomorrow never coming before the power and gorgeous nature of Ascension will reveal itself to you.
Imagine Bob Mould but without that glimmer of hope. Mould is easily one of the greatest songwriters of the last thirty years and he taps into sadness and desperation the way no one else can. He always leaves hope in his songs, there’s always a tiny glimmer that something better is just ahead of us. Ascension closes out all hope; it creates music out of that complete world-ending sadness.
Breaking down the tracks here reminds me of the old saying “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. Sure “Flood” has a sad indie rock vibe, like Slint without the sense of humor. “Broken Home” comes across like Nick Drake joined Sonic Youth and everything slowed to half time, while “Black Lies” has more in common with Broadrick’s older work. That doesn’t do the songs justice, it doesn’t speak to their power when played together and it may not be your reaction. Ascension is an album that begs to be personalized by both those who have been through pain and those who still suffer with it everyday.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING 9 OUT OF 10
These are fascinating times for Hip Hop. After years of moving between East and West Coast domination, the music these days has no leader. Sure there is no shortage of rappers but, as the Beastie Boys and Nas say, not enough MCs. Right now, there is no real movement in Hip Hop outside of grabbing the quick buck. The art form is tipping into despair and usually, from that darkness, comes a new sound to bring the light. One band that’s been a long standing solider in the war against wack rap is New York City’s Dalek.
Produced by Will Brooks (aka Dalek) comes a new full-on East Coast Hip Hop savior album titled Takeover, from a raw Hip Hop crew of MCs known as Deadverse Massive. Takeover is stunning combination of old school feeling and new school flows. Dalek strips everything down here and focuses only on the creation of original sounding music. Pianos, bass lines, strange and off-time beats, it all combines into a kind of world-weary sound. This is the album Hip Hop was calling for, even if it didn’t know it.
Deadverse Massive wastes no time getting into the groove. The opening title track is a stoned head-bopper, a beat that makes you smile with an “Oh yeah that’s the shit” smile. Laced over this musical trip are rhymes that will inspire you to stop and rewind each section. MCs Gym Brown, Oddateee, D.L.E.MM.A, and Skalla move through their parts with such a confident ease that it becomes as much poetry as it straight rhymes. This sound takes me back to the days of watching MCs battle at street parties.
The next track “We Know” takes things up a level with a simple keyboard line that sounds like the hook from a seventies crime movie. The opening words stating, “I like this Dalek”, sums the track up perfectly. Takeover is built on the vibe of bringing Hip Hop back to a street level it’s been sorely lacking. I don’t mean in some kind of simple-minded violent way, but more something filled with the kind of innovation only struggle and passion can bring. Takeover is a true Hip Hop album, the way everyone from Afrika Bambaata to Boogie Down Productions to Eric B. & Rakim did it before there was a bottom line and a dress code.
I became particularly obsessed with the Gym Brown solo track “Gymmie Brown”. It has everything I love about Hip Hop mixed in it. Drum loops you can dance to or just bop to, a bass line that pushes the tune along and a slight horn refrain. Take that and add Gym Brown’s innovative style and that’s all you need. “Deadverse Classic” is another fantastic track and one of the few to feature Dalek on the mic.
Don’t let my constant attention to the street level and old school vibe of Takeover fool you. This isn’t a nostalgia thing; Takeover is fully pointed towards the future of Hip Hop and the MCs involved flow with a futuristic style. What Dalek and Deadverse Massive understand (much like the Beastie Boys on their new album) is that the future of Hip Hop will be rooted in MCs and DJs getting back to basics. Do we really want Hip Hop to end up like Punk Rock? A sad shadow of what it once was? It’s time to end the mafia bullshit and millionaire lives that nobody can relate to. This is an art form that started in the streets and only there will it regain a sense of what is real.
Takeover works for the same reason the Rick Rubin stripped down Johnny Cash stuff does. Those albums took all the fanfare surrounding Cash out of the equation and brought it back down to a man with his guitar Dalek does the same thing with Hip Hop. He brings it back down to MCs rhyming over beats built from imagination not pop singer hooks and sampling. For those who aren’t sure where the future of Hip Hop is headed, I urge you to check out Takeover and re-discover just how amazing this music can be.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING 9 OUT OF 10