Saul Williams’ Third Solo Studio Album (Deluxe Edition)

This album is absolutely spectacular. I think the most distinctive aspect of it may be Saul Williams’ fantastic, original vocal delivery. One moment, he’s screaming out wild exhortations on “Convict Colony” and “List of Demands (Reparations)”; another moment, he’s softly, mournfully singing a dirge on “No One Ever Does”; another moment, he’s rapping and somehow harmonizing with himself without traditional pitch on “Black History Month” and “The Ritual”. Trent Reznor’s production is, as always, distinctive and insane, and these tracks wildly vary in accessibility. If you’re coming at this album as a fan of more melodic music, start with “Skin of a Drum” and the next two tracks; you’ll find three powerful industrial ballads with chilling harmony, engaging vocals, interesting instrumentation, and vibrant lyrics. (Also “WTF!”, an industrial track with vocal harmonies that bring you in and vocal performances that unnerve you in the best way.) You might not be prepared for “Can’t Hide Love”, a Phrygian dominant (mostly) rap cover of Earth, Wind, & Fire built over a 222 bpm drum machine, a pulsing synth, and a seemingly random set of computer noises; of course, that drum machine is pumping out a fantastic rhythm, Saul Williams carries the song with emphatic, rapturous melody, and the result is a complete bop with a messed-up vibe. Let’s not forget Williams’ complex, interesting raps, like on “Break”, a 6/4 (except for the 5/4 chorus) rap put together by layering Williams’ cutting verbal jabs over each other, yielding an intricate rhythmic tapestry that constantly engages the listener. Track 6, by the way, is absolutely wonderful, creating an exciting mythology with groovy raps and an undeniable power behind the chorus. Track 3’s use of a sample with a vocal in it might be the apotheosis of this album, one of many brilliant and innovative uses of vocals for instrumentation. “List of Demands (Reparations)” is an astounding creation, a rock track built from the inside-out featuring harsh, addicting grooves and catchy lines. I can’t comment on Saul Williams’ experience as a black person in America, (I can’t even say the title of this album!) but the different discussions of race on this album have stuck with me and given me a lot to think about. I recommend you give this album, the whole album, a listen; no, it’s not something everyone will fall in love with, but you’ll definitely find at least one track you love, and you’ll certainly learn something about music.

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