Earl Sweatshirt has been getting progressively weirder and less accessible over the years. On this last album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, he did away with hooks and resorted instead to poetic depressed rambling over gritty and dark beats.
Now on his latest album, he’s groaning out each bar like it pains him, barely trying to stay on beat. Not that it's easy to rap over these beats – they’re so glitchy and jittery that they barely follow a rhythm in some cases, often sounding like a scratched CD. Every track begins and ends abruptly, lasting little more than a minute and made up of a single verse. The result is an album of hookless, grooveless, directionless rough cuts that can barely be classed as songs.
The first time I listened to this album I hated it. Even though I loved the lead singles ‘Nowhere2go’ and ‘The Mint’ for their weirdness, a whole album of abstract tunes was too much. It felt like trying to scale a concrete wall with nothing to grip onto.
Fortunately, this is the type of album that proves you need to give things a second chance sometimes. After listening to this again, I actually enjoyed it. As the rough samples and off-kilter rhythms become more familiar, it becomes easier to digest and you can start to lose yourself in the atmosphere of the album. In fact, it adds to the lyrical theme of the album, which sees Earl confronting feelings of being lost and muddled as he sinks worryingly deeper into a black hole of depression. Similarly, Earl’s loose and monotone flow helps to add to the feeling of being lost of muddled – were he sounding tight and energetic it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact.
I’ve since grown to love even the woozier and more disjointed cuts such as ‘Loosie’ and ‘Red Water’. I think ‘Peanut’ may still be a little over my threshold, but otherwise I no longer mind the lack of conventional songs. There’s a hypnotic way in which they all feed into each other that gives these jarring tracks a sense of harmony. The short length of the tracks (and the short length of the album overall) also helps. Not only does it make it easier to give this record repeat listens, but it gives this album a fast pace that counteracts Earl’s slow delivery.
Towards the end of the album, there’s also a lot of personal meaning to the tracks. ‘Playing Possum’ sees him including recordings of his mother and father talking, weaving them together as if having a conversation with each other. ‘Riot!’ meanwhile features a snippet from a song recorded by his father’s friend – perhaps a tribute to his father who recently passed away. This helps to give a sense of what might be the source of Earl’s depression, even if he never goes explicitly into detail about it.
All in all, this album is certainly rough around the edges – so rough that listening to it the first time practically gave me splinters. But this itself helps to portray Earl’s mental state. Whilst I still love a song with a catchy hook and a nice groove, this is the type of the album that doesn’t benefit from conventional songs. An album simply need to be a body of work, and how that body of work sounds on the whole is what matters.