Monday, 22 March 2004

Album Review: Sleep No More

Not much is known about DJ Signify, something that can only be attributed to the highly reclusive career he’s led up to this point. Until now, he has released two stunning mix tapes, Signifyin Breaks and Mixed Messages, Signify also contributed to Anticon’s controversial, Music for the Advancement of Hip Hop compilation.

Sleep No More is an extension of his mixtape work and an expedition into dark, industrial production, so much so that the album is sold as the soundtrack to an imaginary horror movie. It’s hip-hop at its darkest and most chilling. While it isn’t quite the terrifying affair the press release makes out, it does have a twisted, almost psychotic edge.

Along with his two unlikely henchmen, Sage Francis and Buck 65, Signify embarks on a desolate journey through eerie loops, stark drums, and timely scratching, all seamlessly threaded into one unique whole. While Sleep No More is ostensibly a full-length album, it plays a lot more like a mix tape than a conventional LP, essentially meaning that you need to experience the piece in its entirety. As hard as that may be to grasp, there is something quite enchanting about Sleep No More; both in its scope and execution that provides a sense of accomplishment for the creator and the listener.

However, the album mystifies and frustrates in equal measure. When Signify sticks to instrumentals, Sleep No More wanders aimlessly, as on the disconcerting Shatter & Splatter and the head splitting Migraine. Elsewhere, Dirty chugs along without any real direction. In fact of the instrumental tracks, only opener Fly Away and the three parts of the Pee-A-Boo trilogy are engaging enough to warrant further investigation – especially Part II where the album finally erupts in a fit of clever beats and turntablism. Unfortunately, its might is such that is makes the surrounding tracks sound a bit sparse.

The album is aided immeasurably by the vocal signposts that are expertly supplied by Buck 65 and Sage Francis. Frankly, all but the most resilient minds will find the human interaction welcoming. The contrasting styles of the two narrators lend themselves well to the instrumentation. Buck 65 is constantly stumbling on the tempo while Francis offers more elegantly classic diction. However, both supply interesting nuances to Signify’s grey landscapes. Buck’s dark tale of a desolate motel on Stranded makes it a menacing proposition, “the bathroom was crawling with roaches and beetles / the sign above the toilet said ‘don’t flush your needles.” His somewhat enervated drawl on Winter’s Going and Where Did She Go make those two of the stronger tracks. While more energetic, Sage Francis is no less meticulous in his delivery. His accounts on Kiddie Litter and Haunted House Party spare no detail and help to morph Sleep No More into the horror movie it was intended to be.

This is not an easy record to listen to. Sleep No More unveils its personality with time, and requires repeated listens for one to fully appreciate its scope. DJ Signify has crafted an intriguing and stylish piece of work which unfortunately loses sight of its substance too often. It’s an expansive album that definitely improves with every listen, but at over an hour in length, few will have the patience to discover what lurks in its dark corners.

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