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Album review: El-P's 'Cancer 4 Cure'

May 21, 2012 |  4:35 pm

El-P
Throughout the head trip of an album that is “Cancer 4 Cure,” surveillance drones buzz Brooklyn, handwritten notes are left on fallen soldiers and messages of serenity are pierced with choppy beats that morph into gunfire. Is this a current-events record or a snapshot of one’s paranoia? Ace producer and longtime champion of underground hip-hop El-P walks a fine line on “Cancer 4 Cure,” crafting aggression with militaristic precision.

The first solo album in five years from El-P (real name: Jaime Meline), the 12 tracks here are overflowing with pent-up confusion. The characters he inhabits are best confined to our nightmares, more frightening than any horror film because they’re regular folks driven bad.

A tapped cymbal hovers like a vulture on “For My Upstairs Neighbor (Mums the Word),” where keyboard upon keyboard creates a black hole swirl as an unlikely killer stays stone-faced during a police interrogation. He raps, “I hate you for making me make a man bleed” on “Tougher Colder Killer,” in which an army vet is a prisoner of his own mind.

The spinning synths of “Works Every Time” paint the landscape like lights from a prison watchtower, electronics bubbling like little calls for help. Yet even though he’s offered a “fresh start on a new world,” El-P still finds himself homesick. Maybe it’s simply a case of Stockholm syndrome, but it’s no small feat that the mixed-up, war-torn world of haves and have-nots presented here is as inviting as it is.

El-P
“Cancer 4 Cure” 
Fat Possum
Four stars (Out of four)

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— Todd Martens

 

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