Fantastic Damage, El-P’s much lauded 2002 debut as a solo artist, casts a long shadow. I mean, it’s Fan-fucking-tastic Damage. El-P’s work before Fantastic Damage (which includes Company Flow’s brutally brilliant Funcrusher Plus) is plenty critically beloved in its own right, but somehow, it all feels like a prelude to his impending magnum opus. Similarly, everything he’s done since has been burdened by the fact that El-P carefully defined himself in exquisite and bloody detail with Fantastic Damage. 2007’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead would be the high point in any other producer/emcee’s career but, while that album certainly retained the concussive, nightmarish pugnacity of Damage, it lacked the laser-like precision. El-P effectively carpet bombed his audience with ISWYD, which made for thrilling listening, but in the past that technique was one of many in his aural war campaign.
Since I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, El-P’s Definitive Jux label has gone on hiatus (probably permanently), and his close friend and co-Weatherman Camu Tao died of lung cancer. Yet despite these turns of events, which range from incredibly unfortunate to truly tragic, Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 finds El-P making the most joyful music of his career. Now, anyone who is even casually familiar with El Producto hears the phrase “the most joyful music of El-P’s career” and knows that it’s still going to be some chilling shit. After all, this is the man who claims a friend bet him that he couldn’t make a happy beat, and admits he has yet to win that bet. Still, I’d never thought I’d listen to anything with El-P’s name on it and think, “Someone could break dance to this.” But lo and behold, here’s “DMSC”, frontloaded with a hook as charming as it is grimy.
But I’m already regretting using the word “joyful” to describe El-P’s music, so allow me to explain that point a little more clearly; El-P is still as interested as ever in creating the soundtrack to Philip K. Dick’s complete works. But the real difference lies in El-P’s newfound attitude. Funcrusher Plus, Fantastic Damage, and I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead were not entirely humorless affairs, but what jokes there were tended to be of the most pitch-black ilk. Maybe it’s the lack of his severe and labyrinthine flow, but El-P sounds like he’s actually having some fun, tossing in quirky, unorthodox breaks and ridiculous, catchy synths. Even his trademark disturbing song titles occasionally seem capricious when considering the music with which they’re paired, as “Run Fence, Jump, Live” illustrates. Basically, if El-P’s previous music would work well in Blade Runner, Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 probably would work better in Brazil or 12 Monkeys, movies that balance their grim prognostications with a cockeyed sense of humor (“Ah, we get it now,” I can hear you all saying).
Of course, El-P still brings heavy amounts of unequivocal and fiery doom on Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3. The man’s been predicting the collapse of modern civilization for around a decade now. That kind of outlook doesn’t just disappear overnight. In fact, it’s unlikely that anyone new to El-P’s world will hear anything even remotely happy-go-lucky here. But everyone should be able to recognize a masterful beatsmith in fine, casually adventurous mode. Poring over the minutia of El-P’s new tricks and intrusively pondering his current mindset is something that can be left to us finicky, longtime fans.