Record Review June 26 2002 (3)

There’s a lot of angry venting and very little that’s uplifting on El-P’s Fantastic Damage, which only increases the power of the gritty New York hip-hop he’s been pioneering. Amid sonic debris composed of the sort of distorted crunching, screeching and plodding found in the heaviest rock, Fantastic Damage’s rhythmic hip-hop foundation is mutilated, damaged, broken. It’s iron-fisted sci-fi sonic tapestry reeks of urban angst.?

Tunes like “Deep Space 9mm” and “Delorean” teeter on the furthest edges of hip-hop, full of metallic textures, industrial drones and irregularly grinding beats. “Squeegee Man Shooting” lurches with an eerie harmonica reminiscent of Black Sabbath. Crunching guitar loops bounce along with the heavy bass groove on “Blood.” “Dr. Hellno and the Praying Mantus” uses an ominous Helmet-like three-note bass line; absent of samples, it’s like a more rhythmic pillaging of a Throbbing Gristle tune.?

Yet El-P seems barely aware of the music’s intensity when he raps — and his rhyme schemes are as fucked up as the rhythms. He charges headlong into multi-syllabic words and lengthy verses, incorporating such nonsensical phrases as “soluble hemoglobin,” “magnum funk asbestos,” “eightball cataract” and (a personal favorite) “fabulous four-finger ringer backflip discount mechanism set distortion.” ?

El-P revels in his difficulty throughout, urgently purging himself of his neuroses, leaving us with as much Johnny Rotten as Kool Moe Dee, as much Kurt Cobain as the RZA, as much Trent Reznor as Dr. Dre.