Photo: Eric Kjensrud

Dälek: Endangered Philosophies

Dälek release a statement regarding the current state of reality. By reflecting on their past and collecting the various aspects making up the essence of their identity they unleash a vitriolic work of experimental hip-hop.
Endangered Philosophies

Dälek has always been an act ahead of its time. Beginning their career before Death Grips came into prominence, or Shabazz Palaces tampered with the core hip-hop sound, Dälek was a pioneering force in crossing over the boundaries of music genres. Founded in the late ’90s by MC Dälek and Oktopus, the duo projected their experimental vision of hip-hop, in a holistic approach encompassing elements of shoegaze and krautrock, and since then they have been exploring its endless possibilities. This openness has also been present in collaborations with artists such as legendary krautrock band Faust and industrial leaders Techno Animal.

Dälek’s discography has been impressive, as the duo has released one great record after the other, starting with a strong debut in Negro Necro Nekros and reaching a peak with the monumental Absence. Noise and extravagance on the forefront, they began presenting a mellower perspective with Gutter Tactics before going on hiatus. Returning in 2016 and Asphalt for Eden, having gone through a line-up change with Oktopus leaving and members DJ rEK and Mike Manteca joining in, it felt like the band had not missed a beat. The return record shared characteristics with Gutter Tactics in presenting a dreamy, extreme shoegaze influence on top of the heavy hitting reality of rap. Now, just a year later Dälek returns with Endangered Philosophies, an album that sees the act truly return to form.

Endangered Philosophies travels further into Dälek’s past and its more extreme and punishing moments. Noise and dissonance run are abundant, signaled from the very first sonic artifacts in “Echoes Of…”. Immersing into the Absence era, the harsher tonality presents a distinctive animosity that was more controlled in Asphalt for Eden. However, traveling through Dälek’s history, elements across the different manifestations of the band are also spread across the duration of Endangered Philosophies. As extreme as the opener was, the follow-up, “Weapons” features a dreamy and ethereal perspective, as is the case with “Sons of Immigrants”, where Dälek builds melody through harsh means. Piercing sounds and feedback can accomplish a lot, and Dälek takes full advantage of that fact.

But most importantly, Endangered Philosophies is a record for the current time and all of the challenges of today. Establishing the importance of one being educated in “Son of Immigrant” MC Dälek dives into it, “I’m your worst nightmare / Educated and born here.” The biggest critique the album makes is the rise of anti-intellectualism, as in the opening track, “Intellect is mourned by the intelligent, truths once self-evident replaced by vile rhetoric”. Meanwhile, the manner in which the lack of knowledge and misinformation are weaponized is detailed in “Nothing Stays Permanent”: “Living in the age of uncertainty / Absence of clarity creates opportunity.” Trump, of course, does not escape the criticism in “Sacrifice”: “Guess the paradigm shifted / Now the world teeters… Elected leaders shout without research / Some y’all acting like characters by Harriet Beecher.”

In “Straight Razors” the perspective remains bleak: “Stale visions stay myopic / Evolution constant / Prominent speech destined to reach limited ears / Trapped in a loop of primitive fears”, while “Few Understand” urges the need for building oneself: “Mind sharpened and honed, becomes a lethal weapon / Essential essence in tone seems to be effective.” Political figures are referenced in Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton and Bobby Seale, establishing Dälek’s position and intellectual lineage.

Additional topics are examined such as police brutality and immigration in “Son of Immigrants”, but a striking element is a discussion on creativity and art. “Beyond the Madness” sees Dälek go into the struggle of working towards perfecting his style and the hardship one must go through, “Blood shed for visions/ My eyes gauged for wisdom” and then attacks the lack of creativity and value found in other artists, “Most of these heads missing it / Keep this shit intimate and intricate / There is no coincidence / Ears bathed in dissonance / Dismantle their instruments” and the need to be adventurous and daring, summing it all up in the chorus, “Let’s stop pretending that this breath is eternal / Pressure’s external / Existence in peril”, which acts as a wake-up call towards the limited time one has. “Battlecries” also goes into the musical influences, “Sustained by the refrains of Coltrane / Find solace in phrases exhaled by Ian Curtis” explaining how music and art can be considered shelters from the ruthless reality.

The essence of Endangered Philosophies musically lies in this strange trajectory between hip-hop, krautrock, noise and shoegaze taking on all the experimentalism to make the final result enticing and alluring. While Endangered Philosophies arrives just one year after the previous album it feels more complete than Asphalt for Eden, with Dälek diving deeper in dissonance to reach a core truth reflected in the lyrics. Today’s reality is relentless and inescapable, and Endangered Philosophies does not hide away from the fact, but at least it leaves it off on a hopeful note in “Numb”:, “Perhaps we all broken / Current state got me heartbroken / Gotta say what we all hoping / Explosive time will get the illest mind’s open.” It is a rare ray of optimism that the darkest times could lead to an inner revolution for individuals, resulting in better times during the future. That is Dälek’s core, and it is very fitting that it is presented so vividly in a record that encompasses all the diverse elements from their past.

RATING 8 / 10