Sage Francis – LI(F)E – CD Review

Hip-hop artist Sage Francis recently returned with LI(F)E, an all new album on ANTI- Records.  This time around the lyrical genius has tried a different approach to his music by asking for assistance from various musicians who provided personal selections for him to work with.  Skip the bass heavy beats and typical hip-hop soundtracks that have gone with many of his previous works, this time around LI(F)E proves to be Sage Francis’ most sundry work to date.

Having been a fan of Sage Francis since about the time Y2K seemed a threat, I have only gotten more thrilled in anticipation with each of his releases.  I never listened to his albums as much as I studied them.  The man always impressed me with his ability of taking words and formulating them into something intriguing all while accompanied with sometimes self-made hip-hop and even jazzy beats.  This comes from the guy who bought a Sage Francis hoodie from Sage himself a couple years back at one of his shows and did not even realize it was him until mid-way though our conversation.  Oops.

I had to admit I was stoked to see the album cover for LI(F)E was drawn up by contemporary street artist Shepard Fairey.  A young Sage Francis graces the cover and I later found out that it was a dated photo of Sage Francis reminding him of the harder times in life when he slept on the floors at his friend’s houses and just lived day by day.  Not getting down by this things have obviously changed for the better over the years.

“Little Houdini” opened up the album featuring music written by ex-Grandaddy turned solo artist Jason Lytle.  The music, previously written as an instrumental by Lytle, originally had no lyrics to go along with.  Once obtained Francis worked his magic and created a song focused around a fugitive who escaped custody to see his dying mother based from actual events.  Francis had no problem putting his flair on top of the music and one would think both were written at the same time.  The song was one of the better cuts on the entire album.

“Three Sheets To The Wind”, featuring music by Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie continued with a appealing track but it just did not match up to the opening track  The questionable “I Was Zero” started out great until Sage just inserted a weak refrain repeating  “when I came out my momma, I was zero”. For a seasoned hip hop artist that holds many wins on freestyle challenges in the past I felt more effort could have been put forth in this track lyrically.  Perhaps my expectations were set high for Sage and I should include that some of the lines he flows out during the song contained amazing selections of words but the music provided perfect for a rap of sorts with a generic chorus killed it for me.

I enjoyed “Slow Man”, a slow folky track summing up the thoughts in many aging individuals, if not Sage himself.  If Sage’s voice had more baritone in it on “Diamond’s & Pearls” I swear I would have been listening to Everlast.  The impressive “The Baby Stays” was a profound story based around the results of a redundant establishment called life only to succumb to the new outlook at the result between an unlikely pair.  The folk soundtrack, courtesy of Tim Rutili, aided Sage to the very ideal story about an unwanted life turning into the greatest thing ever.

Screaming children assist Sage in “London Bridge” a fun track full of random wonders and events in the world.  The song was fun and I think that is all it was meant to be featuring Sage, a bunch of kids, and once again Chris Walla.  Without looking too deep into it I left it at that and enjoyed it.

The late Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) collaborated with Sage on “Love The Lie”, perhaps my favorite cut on the entire CD.  It was chilling to hear this song knowing that Linkous ended his life for reasons that will never be known.  The track was upbeat from start to finish and almost inspiring yet clearly full of sarcasm.  This is the kind of song you had to actually listen to in order to understand how Sage works.

“The Best Of Times” was another track on LI(F)E that I admired over the others.  The more spoken word track recalled personal stories of Sage making for a powerful close to an impressive release.  As if sitting there listening to Sage was not great enough the musicthat accompanied Sage’s verbal memory was created by Yann Tiersen.

I loved how the album ended as strong as it began.  Sure there were a couple head scratching tracks in there but overall LI(F)E was a pleasure to listen to.  It’s not a hip-hop album by any means but more of a carefully premeditated project from a guy who happens to be good at rapping.  It’s easy for anyone who is familiar with his older material to just not get it – it’s different.  Taking written music in favor of generated beats this round, Sage has created a branch off of what he loves to do and I honestly admire his doing.  Without sounding too cliché, give LI(F)E a chance.

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