“The Philosopher” is the ambitious sophomore release of Australian emcee Labyrinth. It does not reach for great heights in terms of concepts necessarily, but rather it tries to take the listener on an adventure of fantasy. The question is: Does it bring an element of pleasure to the consumer as the film from the 80’s starring David Bowie of the same name (albeit, guilty pleasure) did?
Labyrinth, who self-produces a majority of the album, creates a cohesive sonic landscape that has that epic feel. Yet, when listening to the tracks that experiment with several different types of instrumentals you can’t help but have the feeling that there is some restraint and the disc never truly finds it’s groove for one reason or another.
The title track has the right idea with the distorted industrial drum pattern that matches his brooding lyrics. Based on the cut it’s unclear why Labyrinth has named the track or album “The Philosopher” since some of his thoughts do not rely on reason as is suggested. This is brought to light by lines like, “my brain is infected by devils.”
Not all of “The Philosopher” is driven by such maliciousness. “Save My Breath” attempts to win over a more traditional core hip-hop audience with classic vocal samples from Nas and the late Notorious BIG. Unfortunately aside the scratching and aforementioned samples, the song is a bore.
Then “Holiday” is an ode to alcohol consumption over whimsical synth strings that comes complete with flatulence and belching noises. One would imagine this to be meant to be taken as a musical experience for the pure enjoyment of it; however, there are moments on the track that just do not match the mood. Though it has one of the best beats it is hard to imagine that anyone would bump this in their ride.
But again, the bulk of the album brings us on this dramatic fantasy-driven narrative. That is to say, not all of the tracks are a continuation of a story but the sound and imagery is consistent throughout. Tracks like “The Lost Poet,” “The Centurion,” “Battle Mage,” “The Worst is Yet to Come” and “War Rhythmatic” are just some examples of this premise. They too often have a battle rap sound to them, which causes each song to lose some interest in the lyrical content.
“No Future” is the best “The Philosopher” album has to offer because it has a strong concept, beat and chorus. The production is very dramatic, utilizing an angelic choir backdrop to its benefit. Meanwhile he rhymes the following:
“…If you want to love the Earth then honor the dead
An evolutionary fall like Kurt Vonnegut said
In Galapagos we think too much to be the happiest
But not enough to escape from the crappiest
Future, aliens think that you are a loser
I’ll be getting smarter but don’t know what’s truer
I hope I’m here when it all goes to hell
Maybe the Mayans were right that’s 2012
A few thousand we delve into the pits
A long time ago we should’ve called it quits…”
As you can tell by the words of Labyrinth noted, he can be compared to Immortal Technique between some high brow references–Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse-Five, anyone?–sporadic conspiracy theories and dark undertones. Sadly, in the interest of fairness, the comparison ends there. Labyrinth lacks the flow of Technique, a trait that many say Tech himself lacks, and further is deficient of that scathing sense of humor.
After the missed opportunity of “Reptile (Lizard Man)” which self-destructs because of a distracting female hook, Labyrinth establishes his disposition with the track “Nihilist,” which comes to explain a lot of the pessimism. This is the first clear connection to the title, especially when he states, “I came to look for myself, but I found nothing else.”
I give credit to Labyrinth for attempting this grandiose album that trots along in a fanciful fashion. He keeps on track for the most part except, like the nihilist in him believes, it all doesn’t really matter. The reason is, while some of Labyrinth’s music is far smarter than your typical fare, it’s still redundant in structure, flow and personality (which is why it takes a hit in the rating). Perhaps with the changes he could be an effective emcee from overseas. For now, give me Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie and Jim Henson puppets any day.