Cancer 4 Cure may not shock as immediately as its predecessor, but El-P’s newfound precision may actually mean it will be remembered more kindly in the long run.
Arriving five years after 2007's boundary-busting I'll Sleep When You're Dead, El-P's third studio album proper is expected to contend with some pretty hefty expectations. Cancer 4 Cure doesn't really measure up though. It's a fine record; it's simply a different record. In many ways, its intentions seem almost diametrically opposed to those of its predecessor.
I'll Sleep When You're Dead was an exercise in maximalism. Roping in collaborators as diverse as Cat Power, Trent Reznor and The Mars Volta, El-P's second album was a sprawling exploration of his limits and the limits of his bruising, all-encompassing production style. Cancer 4 Cure is an exercise in precision. It transforms I'll Sleep...'s lo-fi post-industrial stew into polished blasts of experimental hip hop aggression.
The overall make-up is significantly more accessible than El-P's previous outings. The production is cleaner, brighter and more precise. Genres are more easily teased from the collage. The UK grime kinetics of Works Every Time or abstracted boom-bap groove of Oh Hail No, for example, represent some of the most conventional work of El-P's career. Drones Over Brklyn is potentially his catchiest work to date.
None of which is to suggest El-P has actually compromised his aesthetic. The cerebral patterns and unpredictable song structures remain intact. His bass-heavy, lurching, synth-heavy production is still fundamentally unchanged. The producer/MC just seems to have shifted his focus – from experimentation to craftsmanship.
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Cancer 4 Cure may not shock as immediately as its predecessor, but El-P's newfound precision may actually mean it will be remembered more kindly in the long run.