Tan Cressida/Warner Records
It’s easy to label Earl Sweatshirt’s music as “depressing.” And while the Odd Future alumnus’ tracks are frequently morose, it would be inaccurate to just write them off as exercises in despondency. He expresses his pain but also his drive to keep going, bruises and all.
One paradoxical excerpt from Feet of Clay track “OD” says it best: “What’s the use in giving up?” And if there’s ever been a time of collective malaise in which we’re all holding out hope for redemption, it’s right now. On his newest album, Sick!, Earl touches upon the pandemic, but it’s just one of many thoughts flowing through his head. It’s like a meditation session, in which hoping to quiet the mind only makes it louder. “Fire leaping out the hole/Deep breathing only make it grow.” he pointedly says on the closing track.
Sick! also has the feeling of a dream. It’s not that its production is constantly ethereal. But it follows dream logic of inserting you in different situations without any explanation required, regardless of how inexplicable they might seem in hindsight. The bass-boosted, ad-lib-filled “Titanic” sounds like Earl doing his best 21 Savage, while “Lye,” an examination of religious guilt full of horns and vinyl crackle, could easily fit in on Some Rap Songs. Both feel at home here. One of Earl’s best traits as an artist is his ceding the spotlight so his guests can get their thoughts out, and then coming in to tie things up. Sick! does this twice. First with Detroit rapper Zeelooperz, with a flow not unlike Earl’s on “Vision,” rapping about loneliness over Black Noi$e’s piano loops and rattling percussion while a ghostly vocal sample haunts the background. Next, “Tabula Rasa” is another winning collaboration between Earl and Armand Hammer rappers Billy Woods and Elucid, even without The Alchemist producing. (He handles two songs).
He’s also great about sprinkling in reminiscences, particularly about family. On “2010,” with its bubbly-but-not-sugary synths, he thinks back to 2003, listening to Mary J. Blige and seeing his mom wear Liz Claiborne. “God Laughs” operates like a walk through a cemetery, with one line hitting particularly hard: “My grandfather spoke 13 languages. Somehow, I never had nothin’ to say.”
Sick! won’t surprise anyone familiar with Earl Sweatshirt’s trajectory since Doris. But every listen is sure to reveal something new to appreciate. He might not like shit or go outside, but he keeps going.