Sub Pop Records – July 14th
Quasars are powered by supermassive black holes and emit powerful electromagnetic energy. First detected in 1963, the strongest ones burn significantly brighter than our humble Milky Way. As if powered by the same infernal energy Shabazz Palaces return with no less than two new albums. The 23 wild songs see the otherworldly Southern California rappers Ishmael Butler and multi-instrumentalist Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire eclipse their lean and combative 2014 effort, Lese Majesty. With more space, these exquisite new sonic meanderings conjure up the ghost of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Akin to the Outkast formula, the first half serves as a playground for Ishmael’s audacious rapping. The second as a showcase for Baba’s synth-heavy mindbenders. On both, the Sub Pop duo allow their songs to relax and stretch out. Occasionally it sounds a bit like the Pet Shop Boys. Well, that’s true of the five-minute ‘Moon Whip Quaz’, at least, where Ishmael calmly raps among a sea of glittery synths and disco beats: “I rolled in on a light wave/ I’ve never been a good slave/ I kissed the Queen of Zanzibar/ I blew up the Death Star.” He laughs audibly at the end of the verse as if to acknowledge his sheer nerve. Elsewhere, the certifiable single ‘Shine a Light’ shows a killer instinct thanks to its lush strings and rubbery slink.
However, its sister album is far more bizarre. By then, the central character of Quazarz has found a hostile world where humans have developed a weirdly sensual relationship with the technological gadgets that crimp their imaginations. The proceedings are positively scorched from their red-hot intensity, even if they burn slower. Just listen to ‘Effeminence’ as it marries a Philip Glass-like loop with a snaking syncopation straight outta Persia. The effect is devastating. Now drop in the snappy drawl of Ishmael and you’ve got a party: “Lo and behold here it is/ Your favourite rapper/ His jaw clenched into a Xanax glove/ His heart is scrolling to and fro/ He’s focused on the blurry blur”. If any health warning is to be slapped on this double-pack it’s that the albums demand repeated listens. Yet while sprawling and ungainly your patience will reveal a galaxy of wonders.