Before they went on amicable hiatus in 2011, New Jersey based trio Dalek were some of the most distinctive outliers in US hiphop, confounding scene purists with their curiously calming sensory overload of shoegazer textures, harsh industrial elements and literate, politically loaded lyrics. That they’ve shared stages with artists ranging from Techno Animal and The Young Gods through to De La Soul and Jesu is a testament to the difficult to pigeonhole nature of their sound, influenced as much by the likes of Einsturzende Neubaten and My Bloody Valentine as anything conventionally considered hiphop.
If last year’s ‘Asphalt For Eden’ album, which saw original member MC Dalek (Will Brooks) debuting a new band lineup alongside DJ rEk and Destructo Swarmbots’ Mike Manteca represented a surprisingly strong re-emergence, one year on this eighth album ‘Endangered Philosophies’ sees Dalek completely reconsolidating their position as industrial alt-hiphop innovators. Indeed, it’s a deep dive back into Dalek’s chaotic yet intricately layered soundworld from the very outset.
‘Echoes Of…’ sees distorted industrial sludge guitar loops writhing against clattering boom-bap drum breaks, MC Dalek’s old-school flavoured flow rising in intensity alongside ominous dark synth sweeps, his repeated chorus hook of “my people won’t kneel’ colliding head-on with a sampled Malcolm X speech, before the entire track lurches off to its conclusion, woozy turntable scratches giving way to a gauzy ambient noise outro that calls to mind ‘Downward Spiral’-era NIN.
By contrast, ‘Weapons’ pares back the murky layers of distortion, giving MC Dalek’s vocals more space to assume centre stage as it sends phased reversed tones and icily beautiful ambient pads floating like ghosts against edgy headnod beats, the gauzy background layers gradually building into a wall of hypnotic noise that drowns everything around it, Dalek’s looped refrain of “war without weapons” spinning off into darkness. Elsewhere, ‘Son Of Immigrants’ sees the sense of barely contained outrage rising to a peak as hypnotic layers of chiming guitar harmonics reach off to the horizon and a snapping snare loop anchors Dalek’s vivid depiction of an increasingly racially fractured post-Trump America (“wounded conversations mistaken as silence / you made the fire without even trying”).
‘A Collective Cancelled Thought’ meanwhile spends its seven minutes reaching out into an oceanic wash of droning distortion that sees contemplative bass tones submerged in the fog as weary sounding beats lurch into focus amidst distant howls of guitar feedback – and even though toxic layers of noise power beneath, it also easily manages to come across as one of the most immersively lulling moments here, no mean feat in itself. ‘Endangered Philosophies’ is easily up there with Dalek’s best work, and it’s great to see the ever innovative New Jersey collective back at full strength.