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Sage Francis - Human the Death Dance

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Artist: Sage Francis

Album: Human the Death Dance

Label: Anti-

Review date: Jul. 16, 2007

“I’m taking a trip down Memory Lane…” belts a pre-teen Sage Francis during the intro to his latest full length, Human the Death Dance. The track, “Growing Pains,” exhibits a few cut-up segments of Sage’s youthful rapping efforts and provides apropos context of the man behind 2002's Personal Journals and 2004's A Healthy Distrust. As fans will likely be able to predict, our ever-eclectic scribe runs the gauntlet of introspective subject matter in Human. And while Sage’s signature witticism is a welcome return, there are a few moments when his lyricism unfortunately crosses the delicate line between pithy and predictable.

The strong instrumental production is sewn together through collaborations with the likes of Buck 65, Alias, Sixtoo, Mark Isham and Jolie Holland, whose vocals on “Got Up This Morning” adorn Buck 65’s beat to achieve one of the record's highlights. Isham’s composition on “Good Fashion” gestures towards the melodramatic, but it is a color that Sage has worn well in the past, and his verses here are no exception: "Culture of violence / truth stuck behind my lips / bound, gagged and whipped / stripped, divided, and split / eating words with a forked tongue / and now the grumble in my stomach /has got the thump of a war drum. " But when he's not imparting doses of poignancy, Sage stumbles into quite a few clichéd moments, like on “Underground for Dummies,” which sounds more like a rote anthem for authenticity than anything genuinely new.

This tedium is shrugged off toward the end of the record, and Sage’s grainy timbre fills out another Isham-composed track, “Waterline,” which meditates on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Amid a cadre of similarly themed songs, Sage straddles the line between rap and spoken word, etching a memorable contribution through an impressive lyrical flow: "Let the thoughts flood / blessed are those who are dammed / when the levy broke / how many choked / on the steps of a slow dance? / a staircase to a hug with no hands / accountability hung out to dry / on the line of command."

Sage’s trip down Memory Lane that is Human the Death Dance is at its strongest when the bridle is loosened on his creative lyricism, unfettered by a consistent rhyme structure or theme. The instrumentation, however, is consistently on par with his previous efforts, and when Sage gives into his stream of consciousness, he creates vignettes that are unforgettable.

By Chris Tabron

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