The Politics of Sound
Beginning with an incendiary speech by Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Dälek’s Gutter Tactics brings the tension while offering only a few moments of resolution. Much like the polarizing preacher who kicks off the LP, dälek (the MC) unflinchingly documents America’s hypocrisies over denser-than-lead beats provided by the Oktopus, the other half of the alt-rap duo.
Throughout Gutter Tactics, dälek’s voice is treated like another texture in the Oktopus’ walls of sound instead of being placed front and center in the mix. As a result, dälek’s sharp observations on politics, race, and the state of hip-hop get lost in a cloud of motorcycle sounds on “Armed with Krylon,” snarling guitars and metallic snares on “Who Medgar Evers Was…,” and waves of dissonance throughout.
The noise, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Dälek’s flow, while impassioned, is very basic; most of his rhyme schemes are old-school simplistic. The Oktopus’ atonal beats are what separate Gutter Tactics from the numerous indie hip-hop albums whose central theme is political disenchantment. His jarring layers of drums and noise seethe with a rage that is just as political in sound as any imagery dälek paints with words. Sound and message are well-paired throughout Gutter Tactics, but “Street Diction” stands out as the best union on the album. Kicking off the track with alarms and sirens chiming in arrhythmic patterns, dälek sums up his political manifesto in these three lines:
“Chickens home to roost is what a wise man said
Since he spit truth they made sure he bled
It’s been much too long that we’ve been misled”
In a few spots on Gutter Tactics, the rage gives way to resignation. The plaintive “A Collection Of Miserable Thoughts Laced With Wit” is an ambient track that builds up and breaks down around a bass drone pattern. Coupled with “We Lost Sight,” these two songs comprise the album’s lone moments of uneasy tranquility.
For fans of noisy, left-of-center hip-hop acts, such as Anti-Pop Consortium and El-P, that blend avant-garde approaches to sound with traditional hip-hop, there’s plenty to like on Gutter Tactics . However, what may keep Dälek from preaching to anybody outside the noise-loving choir is the album’s steep learning curve. Although Gutter Tactics is a highly focused record and admirable from an artistic standpoint, many will be turned off by the sensory-bombing sound.