Conventional wisdom says that releasing an album now, when the country is in the throes of extreme economic uncertainty, can’t be good for sales. For an album like Gutter Tactics, however, fears of the apocalypse are good. Gritty and abrasive, the album speaks to anyone disenfranchised by the government, or, more likely these days, laid off by an indifferent employer. And, just like the daily news reports, there’s not much hope anywhere on this album.
Though Gutter Tactics is Dälek’s most accessible album yet, be prepared for layer upon layer of drone, scuzz, saws, and noise that question whether the music should even be called hip-hop. Sure, the echo-drenched drums are cadenced to a rhyme-able beat, but the rest of the production resembles industrial shoe gaze more than rap. And Dälek’s lyrics are pushed to the bottom of the mix, underneath an avalanche of layered live instrumentation and distortion.
In the lyrics that are actually audible, Dälek serves up didactic rants reminiscent of Dead Prez and Immortal Technique. On “Los Macheteros” the MC recounts atrocities committed by the government in the past decades. It’s a strange echo of the first track, an excerpt of Reverend Wright’s infamous speech that nearly derailed then-candidate Obama back in the fall.
Typical for an anti-establishment hip-hop album, Gutter Tactics sets its sights on mainstream hip-hop on “We Lost Sight”: “We lost sight of how to use these mics, what scripts we write, how to choose the fights.” Sure, dissing hip-hop of today is easy. But, from a listener’s perspective, the instrumentation on this track is the only glimmer beauty on the album.
Gutter Tactics is the fifth album of New Jersey’s Dälek (pronounced “dialect”), a duo of the rapper of the same name along with producer Okt0pus. They’ve survived on the fringe of hip-hop for nearly a decade by making music that sounds like nothing else. Whether you like it or not is probably the least of their worries. No matter what happens in the real world, Dälek seems content in their world: “At the worst of times I still find my head nodding.”