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Casey Carver



Joined: 03 Sep 2003
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review of HTDD from popmatters.com  Reply with quote  

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/music/reviews/38801/sage-francis-human-the-death-dance/

Sage Francis
Human the Death Dance
(Epitaph)
US release date: 8 May 2007
UK release date: Available as import
by Mike Schiller
PopMatters Multimedia Editor


“I have to say… there are Personal Journals moments… there are Hope moments… there is ONE Healthy Distrust moment… and the rest is probably the stuff I will be most remembered by.”
—Sage Francis, blogging about Human the Death Dance, December 2006

Sage Francis is no stranger to thematic consistency. Personal Journals, his debut album for Anticon, was a virtual diary of his darkest thoughts and most personal ruminations, a collection of tracks that unfortunately resulted in the “emo” label he’s been shackled to ever since. Hope, the album he recorded as Non Prophets with producer nonpareil Joe Beats, was a love letter to hip-hop, the utter antithesis of Personal Journals as it sacrificed introspection for self-aggrandization-via-deprecation and battle rhymes. A Healthy Distrust found a perpendicular to the line drawn between those two albums, combining the personal with the sociopolitical for an oppressively dark album with vaguely post-apocalyptic undertones. All of them are albums that carry common threads even as the subject matter changes, resulting in albums that work as such, allowing those albums thematic distinctions from the mix CDs that Francis released independently on his own Strange Famous records.
cover art


It is this precedent that exposes the weaknesses of Human the Death Dance, an album that, even in Francis’ own words (detailed above), ends up all over the map in terms of lyrical bent and production style. If there’s a common thread here, it’s hard to find, to the point where Human the Death Dance could almost be Francis’ next mix CD, except that it’s far more accomplished in production and construction than any of those slapped-together diamond-in-the-rough style outings.

Of course, the good Sage remains one of the most quotable artists out there. “You can’t make it to heaven with a high step,” he relates on “High Step”, weaving a lesson in humility into a narrative involving religion and high school football. ”8 Mile wasn’t true, shithead / It was a promotional tool, but not for you, shithead”, he spits while shooting down unknown white indie-hip-hoppers trying to ride his (and Em’s) coattails to success. And in perhaps the most laugh-out-loud moment on the album, he relays a conversation with a lady he’s got a keen eye on: “… She dangled that carrot and then asked me, ‘What would Bukowski do?’ / Don’t go there, he’d make you his mom / And then completely lie about it in a book later on”. Obviously, he hasn’t lost his touch for one-liners, and it could even be argued that as a whole, his rhymecrafting skills are as strong as they’ve ever been, given that those quips tend to fit better in the context of the songs in which they appear; where once, Sage Francis songs might have traveled into the realms of collections of lines, loosely slapped together for the sake of a verse, every single one of the songs on Human the Death Dance works as its own cohesive unit.

In doing so, however, Francis traps himself into his subjects, occasionally lowering himself to their level; how is he supposed to make the point that he’s the freshest MC out there as he does on “Giants and Midgets” (undoubtedly one of the Hope moments on the album) when his chorus goes “You are really not all that dope / No na no na no no / But am I really all that fresh? / Yes ya yes ya yes yes”? That sort of repeated inanity completely invalidates the entire point he’s trying to make with the song! Less egregious (but still a bit troubling) is the recycling of lines, as he does for part of the chorus of “Hell of a Year”, with a bit first heard on his Sickly Business mix as part of “Love, Love, Love”.

All of it adds up to prose that is arresting, certainly, but not awe-inspiring, as his previous releases often were. Eventually, the words simply add up to noise, placing the burden of interest on the production. Occasionally, the production is enough to rise to such a challenge. Francis certainly pulled out all the stops to make sure it did—a veritable who’s who of the Anticon production stable is here, with Odd Nosdam, Alias, Ant, and Reanimator showing up for a track or two each, all of them living up to whatever standards they’d previously set for themselves. Where the production really shines, however, is in the less traditional selections, the strongest of which feature Mark Isham, the renowned composer of film music (Crash, Men of Honor, and A River Runs Through It are just a few of the movies that he’s scored for). Isham’s heavy use of strings and pianos (and even a harp, at one point) squeezes a lot of emotion into the mere three-and-a-half minutes he’s allotted on this album, a time made even more poignant by its lack of percussion. His cinematic style is perfect for the most dramatic of Sage’s raps, brief as they may be. Buck 65 shows up to add some bounce to “Got Up This Morning” (on which Jolie Holland gets in a one-liner of her own: “What you want with a woman who won’t do what you say?"), and I don’t really know who Tom Inhaler is, but his live-instrumental backdrop to album closer “Going Back to Rehab” is exquisite.

That the album’s strongest tracks are also its riskiest suggests that Sage Francis is now at a crossroads. He could continue to recycle the ideas in his previous work as his suggestion above seems to imply, and given the skill with which he does just that on much of Human the Death Dance, he could have a pretty successful career at it. Still, the sound of the Isham, Buck 65, and Tom Inhaler tracks points to a future in which a dramatic cinematic masterpiece still awaits. As such, the rest of Human the Death Dance can’t help but sound like a bit of a disappointment, even as he continues to outshine 90% of the rappers out there in terms of pure lyrical content. As a primer, a first Sage Francis purchase, it’s fine; in light of his previous achievements, less so. Potential’s a bitch.



i stopped reading popmatters a long time ago, but my friend suggested i check this out.

i'm not sure where this guy is coming from with a lot of this i think htdd comes across as just as, if not more, cohesive than any either hope or ahd. also, if what he wrote applies, should cohesiveness of an album take precedent over the actual songs when it comes to how good it is or assigning it snowflakes or a numerical value from 1-10?
Post Fri May 11, 2007 12:24 pm
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tom inhaler
me too!


Joined: 30 Jun 2002
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Re: review of HTDD from popmatters.com  Reply with quote  

Mike Schiller wrote:
I don’t really know who Tom Inhaler is, but his live-instrumental backdrop to album closer “Going Back to Rehab” is exquisite.



i am using that forever-ever
Post Fri May 11, 2007 12:31 pm
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deluin



Joined: 02 Feb 2004
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This review sounds like an essay written by a kid really trying to impress his teacher with how intellectual and deep he is.
Post Fri May 11, 2007 12:36 pm
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FreddyD



Joined: 19 Mar 2007
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It sounds like dude let what Sage said about the album totally inform his opinion.

"Like, I have to write this review, and I really don't know what to say...hmm, well what do we have here, a quote from the man himself about the feel of certain songs on the album. Yes, this sounds about right, I'll just quote him and go from there."

Lazy mutherfuker.

Though this notion of a "mixtape feel" has been brought up before on this board, I just don't get that impression when I listen to the album straight through. I think the song arrangement was chosen very well, and the album flows lovely. It feels very polished and cohesive to me.

The Tom Inhaler line was good shit, though.
Post Fri May 11, 2007 12:59 pm
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zeem



Joined: 29 Apr 2003
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Re: review of HTDD from popmatters.com  Reply with quote  

tom inhaler wrote:
Mike Schiller wrote:
I don’t really know who Tom Inhaler is, but his live-instrumental backdrop to album closer “Going Back to Rehab” is exquisite.



i am using that forever-ever


he's right man. you just produced the best sage francis song. possibly ever.
Post Fri May 11, 2007 1:01 pm
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jehu



Joined: 25 Aug 2002
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FreddyD wrote:
It sounds like dude let what Sage said about the album totally inform his opinion.


that's what i was thinking.
Post Fri May 11, 2007 1:05 pm
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name



Joined: 12 Nov 2002
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i've definitely come around on the cohesion issue. after listend to HTDD a bunch of times now, i find it to be far far more cohesive than it seemed at first. it really is a great album.

that said... i would agree that there are songs that some long time sage fans probably feel like they've "outgrown" for lack of a better word. eventhough they're fun to listen to a few times, i think tracks like "underground for dummies", "midgets and giants", and high step", are kind of re-hashed. the reason everyone compares this album PJ so much is because PJ really couldnt even be classified within a genre. i, for one, no longer care about "keepin it real" or "staying true to hip hop". fuck it. i'd love to see a sage album that has no resemblance to any "type" of music. HTDD doesn't quite do this, but it almost does. having first heard an AOI tape over eight years ago, and having experienced how groundbreaking PJ was, a lot of people, understandably, have insanely high expectations for each of sage's releases.
Post Fri May 11, 2007 1:59 pm
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T-Wrex
p00ny tang


Joined: 30 Jun 2002
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Re: review of HTDD from popmatters.com  Reply with quote  

zeem wrote:
tom inhaler wrote:
Mike Schiller wrote:
I don’t really know who Tom Inhaler is, but his live-instrumental backdrop to album closer “Going Back to Rehab” is exquisite.



i am using that forever-ever


he's right man. you just produced the best sage francis song. possibly ever.


yeah man... it's up there with shit like Passin' Me By or T.R.O.Y...
Post Fri May 11, 2007 2:04 pm
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medicineman
HALFLING


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Re: review of HTDD from popmatters.com  Reply with quote  


Quote:


In doing so, however, Francis traps himself into his subjects, occasionally lowering himself to their level; how is he supposed to make the point that he’s the freshest MC out there as he does on “Giants and Midgets” (undoubtedly one of the Hope moments on the album) when his chorus goes “You are really not all that dope / No na no na no no / But am I really all that fresh? / Yes ya yes ya yes yes”? That sort of repeated inanity completely invalidates the entire point he’s trying to make with the song!




WTF is he talking about? That chorus may not be a lyrical marvel, but it's very humorous, which is really the point of that song. That shit cracks me up. And somehow gets stuck in my haed.

I don't know, personally I think this album curbstomps Healthy Distrust until it's dead and then anally abuses it's lifeless corpse. Nothing can ever supplant Personal Journals from it's unique place in my consciousness, and HOPE is another matter entirely, but actually, I think that in my opinion this is the best Sage album so far in terms of being a cohesive album.
Post Fri May 11, 2007 3:00 pm
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sequence



Joined: 21 Jul 2002
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While I disagree with a lot of the content of this review--namely, I do find the album to be pretty damn cohesive, any other grievances have already been aired in 'reactions' thread--I think it is the first _actual_ review of the album to be posted on the board. While it may be that the reviewer did glom on to Sage's description, it is quite clear that he or she actually listened to the record, knows Sage's other material, and made some informed commentary accordingly.

While we all like mindless praise every now and again (or all the time in my case, I'll take as much, "Oh, Adam, you're so great" as I can get), I can imagine it would grow tiresome to encounter reviews that say nothing about the album at all, e.g., nearly every other review that has thus far been posted. I'd rather be taken seriously (see above parenthetical statement for why this is a lie) and critiqued than given a free pass or a free session of abuse that amounts to little more than ad hominems from someone who didn't really listen to (or read, in my case) my work.

Just a thought.
Post Fri May 11, 2007 3:09 pm
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JayAreSea



Joined: 10 Jul 2004
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Location: WA
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sequence wrote:
While I disagree with a lot of the content of this review--namely, I do find the album to be pretty damn cohesive, any other grievances have already been aired in 'reactions' thread--I think it is the first _actual_ review of the album to be posted on the board. While it may be that the reviewer did glom on to Sage's description, it is quite clear that he or she actually listened to the record, knows Sage's other material, and made some informed commentary accordingly.

While we all like mindless praise every now and again (or all the time in my case, I'll take as much, "Oh, Adam, you're so great" as I can get), I can imagine it would grow tiresome to encounter reviews that say nothing about the album at all, e.g., nearly every other review that has thus far been posted. I'd rather be taken seriously (see above parenthetical statement for why this is a lie) and critiqued than given a free pass or a free session of abuse that amounts to little more than ad hominems from someone who didn't really listen to (or read, in my case) my work.

Just a thought.


I agree. He wrote his review and he explained somewhat thoroughly why he thought what he did. No reason to shit on him. I'll also add that maybe--MAYBE--he had his review either written in draft form or was gathering his thoughts together, and then he ran across a random Sage quote that he felt supported his theory.
Post Fri May 11, 2007 5:02 pm
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Oh Daesu



Joined: 11 May 2005
Posts: 1848
Location: Vancouver
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Not a bad review, I think. I liked the album more than he did, but I think some of the points he makes are valid, I think.

I'm just trying to put a speed bumb in the dickriding.

Honestly, one of the better reviews of the album that have been out. He's clearly a fan of Sage's past works, and he's taken time to listen to the album and it shows. The rest is just opinions. Whatever.
Post Fri May 11, 2007 5:10 pm
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Tempest



Joined: 26 Apr 2003
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I mainly agree with this review.
Post Sat May 12, 2007 10:18 pm
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breakfast



Joined: 04 Oct 2006
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This dudes syntax kills me.
How many fucking commas do you need? Start a new thought once in a while, hamslice.
Post Sun May 13, 2007 2:06 am
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The Shards



Joined: 10 May 2007
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i think people worry too much 'cohesive albums'... the art is songwriting, not album writing. If artists want to create a concept album where everything falls into place, that's fine, but otherwise why worry? No one said you have to listen to the album start to finish - i skip through them, make my own sequences. Seems silly to penalize great songs just because they don't work together.

I suppose the charge though is some of the songs contradict the maturity Sage shows on the others. Namely Underground for Dummies, High Step, Midgets and Giants. I think people need to upgrade their sense of humour in that case though, maybe they're not quite catching it
Post Sun May 13, 2007 6:30 am
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