Gutter Tactics

3.5 out of 5 stars

Even within the eclectic underground hip-hop scene, the two-piece outfit Dälek is an outsider. While the MC (also named Dälek) writes politically and socially conscious rhymes that resonate with similarly minded groups like Aesop Rock and Jedi Mind Tricks, the accompanying beats are truly unique. Producer Oktopus crafts huge soundscapes that pulse with layers of buzzing guitar feedback, drawing influence from indie splinter-genres like shoegaze, drone and post-rock, although the underlying drum loops are stripped-down and traditional.

Sheaths of dissonance smother the lo-fi rhythm section, illustrating a grim portrait of post-modern and post-industrial life. The aesthetic statement complements that of ragga/dubstep producer The Bug’s Brooklyn Zoo, and Dälek even name-checks the artist on “Street Diction.” MC Dälek’s bleak vision of the world is encapsulated on “We Lost Sight”: “Concrete terrain turned molten / tumultuous days fall consecutive on shoulders of men / got enough weight without being condemned.”

Such pessimism extends across the entire album and is felt right from the opening salvo, “No Question.” MC Dälek offers up a skeptical response to Young Jeezy’s celebration of President Barack Obama’s victory, “My President is Black,” in these caustic lines: “A black president don’t ensure the sun shine / A rich president represent his own kind.” It’s a sharp rebuttal to Jeezy’s claim that Obama is “stuntin’ on Martin Luther feelin’ just like a king / Guess dis is what he meant when he said dat he had a dream.”

While MC Dälek is an iconoclast, he’s just as cocky as the mainstream rappers he puts down: on “Gutter Tactics” he spits, “I’ve had it with these half-assed kids, only concerned with material / inferior insight, rhymes superficial.” His hypnotic delivery is backed by a bizarre symphony of oceanic guitar growls and yawlping dissonant chords. Despite the unconventional sounds, MC Dälek still shows his dedication to cultural roots on tracks like “Armed With Krylon,” where he confides his “only solace lie(s) in the language of drums.”

Though the album keeps up a level of consistent quality throughout, the most accomplished cut is “Street Diction,” where both members of the Dälek duo are at their best. Fractals of crystalline chimes erupt over melancholy bass yawns while MC Dälek’s tightly wound verses weave through the cracks. He pays homage to the wordsmiths before him — he “hope(s) to reach apex like Kerouac at his peak.”

Dälek is innovative and daring, but Oktopus’s distinctive production style threatens to drown out his MC’s impassioned stanzas. It takes several careful headphone trips to appreciate both the sonic and lyrical depth of the album. Still, MC Dälek’s flow and wordplay can’t live up to those of his more distinguished peers. His imagery is powerful but his vocal delivery is predictable. The danger is that the duo will only be known for its sound and not its rhymes, which are often impressively iconic, as on “2012 (The Pillage)”: “Lives change directions / like Nile we life’s essence / Engaged eternal, we struggle with peril / Perhaps we are gutter, but your God is my devil.” MC Dälek has talent, but — in his words — has yet to reach his apex.

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