Sage Francis - Human the Death Dance
Make no bones about it, this is an incredibly frustrating LP. At points there'll be a run of four or five songs that make it feel like "a great record", before one of the tracks I physically can't help myself running across the room to skip will come groaning out of the speakers. The fact that two of the album's best songs, Civil Obedience and the Buck 65-produced Got Up This Morning, arrive very early on strikes a real blow to the balance of the album. The former's flawless sheen and rapier-sharp lyrics set an incredibly high standard for Death Dance, horribly betrayed by the tracks that follow; Clickety Clack spends four minutes saying nothing while Midgets and Giants is a particularly lame diss - rhymes like 'Am I really that good? Yes. Are you? No.' don't do much to showcase his superiority over whoever the recipient of this so-called dressing-down is.
Elsewhere, the Eastern flute and heavy guitars of High Step are short, sweet and invigorating while synths that sound like they've been swiped straight from the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop II make an appearance on Call Me Francois to pleasingly disconcerting effect. The two collaborations with classical musician Mark Isham, which feature only orchestral backing for Francis' rhymes, are an intriguing prospect but prove only partially successful - Waterline, seemingly a damming indictment of America's response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last year is far superior to the horribly ill-judged Good Fashion. The rich tomes of songstress Jolie Holland, whose other-worldly vocals provide an extra dimension to Black Out On A White Night and the honky tonk guitar-led Got Up This Morning, prove by far the most effective addition to the album.
Sage's fourth album proper is an often bleak journey without being entirely one-paced - the bizarre skit Broccilude is probably a biting comment on the state of US government, but I can't say for certain because I have no idea what he's chattering on about. There's just enough substance and willingness to experiment to cement this album's status as a good listen, but with a few more killer additions and the removal of two or three decidedly poor tracks it could've been so much more.