Halfway through Abandoned Languages, the fourth full-length from New Jersey post-rap duo Dalek (pronounced “dialect”), the sound of rusty saws working furiously on a metal pipe segues into a paranoiac off-key organ drone and back again before shifting like the calm after the storm into a pulsing, narrow sludge of a beat. Pick almost any five-minute cut of the record and the same feel is recreated — from head-twisting sonic freak-outs, all reckless saxophone wails and ambulance sirens, into soothing ambient drone, before the plunge back into mayhem. It all feels like boilerplate post-apocalyptic soundscapes, if such a thing exists, and it’s the kind of noise Dalek is extremely proficient at creating.
There’s a precedent in underground hip-hop for heavy bombast, from any of a bevy of El-P-fueled Def Jux releases to the most bogged-down of Madlib’s blunted beats. And then, of course, there’s Bomb Squad productions, which crafted full-bodied bass-knocking tracks complete with heartbeat-raising squeals and stutters for Public Enemy a decade and a half ago.
The difference is that Chuck D rapped over the heaviness, doing his best to rein in the beat with his flow, like riding down a wild horse, and the beats gave in; dalek (the name of this group’s emcee) lets the freak-outs blanket his verses and chimes in at the moments of peace, where the track most closely resembles a traditional hip-hop beat. The split defines the two sides of Dalek’s sound: on one hand minimalist, straight-laced spoken-verse hip-hop; on the other, experimental sonic workouts that bring to mind more the clanging industrial noise of Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop” than any other hip-hop act.
Ultimately, it’s the latter that’s the more intriguing of the two. Languages is chock-full of throwaway protest lines, stuff like “failures of corrupt governments” and “bricks crumble in the face of this author” and “my niggas just starved for truth/ sitting watching puppet strings move.” If I want empty political posturing, I’ll listen to Talib Kweli. Ultimately Dalek’s fragmented drone makes dalek’s tired wordplay obsolete, thereby redeeming Abandoned Languages.