If someday evidence is uncovered offering irrefutable proof that hip hop weirdos Shabazz Palaces were actually higher beings from an extraterrestrial civilization, sent back through time and space to bestow upon those humans clever enough to listen the wisdom to help them survive some unspecified forthcoming global catastrophe, it would not in all honesty come as a complete surprise. Listen to Ishmael “Palaceer Lazero” Butler’s sprawling, densely packed passages of bop poetry (“Sanity, a visage of my wealth/ Lost but always found before the idols that I’ve knelt/ Strategy, the only way to cry/ Keep it do or die and always think in terms of I”) and it’s not hard to picture the former Digable Planets MC in his mirror shades and armour-plated zebra-print shirt on the holodeck of some interplanetary craft serenely preaching the secrets of the universe to Earth’s expatriates whilst multi-instrumentalist partner Tendai Maraire cooks up a heady brew of sci-fi electro boogie in the background; similarly, you could put as much energy as you like into finding another record that sounds as otherworldly as new album Lese Majesty, but you’d be wasting your time: even next to the group’s extraordinary debut long-player Black Up – itself a work of often mind-boggling originality (and, lest we forget, Foam Hands’ album of 2011) – their sophomore release is a revelation, music that is at once as authoritative as some ancient rune-written text and as magical and out of reach as the stars themselves. It’s hip hop, Jim, but not as we know it. For the most part, Butler’s lyrics feel like cryptic steps to enlightenment (even when playing the playa with his “syndicates of girlfriends” on “#CAKE” he does so in such a graceful manner as to make himself sound less like a sleaze than a scholar) and whilst there are obvious nods to previous Daisy Age dabblings – in the lush textures as well as the trippy hippy vibes – the overall effect is decidedly futuristic, with production that fuses airy jazz and tech-savvy sonics to brain-bogglingly psychedelic effect. Tribal percussion collides with skittering processed beats, crooning soul divas chase chanting monks into African dance parties and doomy minimalist drones segue seamlessly into slinky lover-man R&B; even taking into account the late ‘90s/ early noughties avant-pop hybrids of Timbaland and the Neptunes, hip hop hasn’t sounded so much like an alien language since Public Enemy burst onto the scene in the ‘80s, and never has the idea of surrendering yourself to the mothership seemed so appealing.
Lese Majesty is out July 29 via Sub Pop; check out “They Come In Gold” and “#CAKE” below.