Artist: Sage Francis
Album: Copper Gone
Release Date: 3rd June 2014
Label: Strange Famous Records
Growing up, I had missed the golden age of rap in the 1980’s where soul and funk had eventually merged into hip-hop and produced artists such as NWA, RUN D.M.C, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys or even A Tribe Called Quest. So this meant I was left with the commercial mess of the 1990’s, where each song was focused around firearms, woman of the night, or illicit substances and accompanied by poorly constructed ‘beats’ and over-zealous delivery. Naturally, I didn’t get into that scene.
Sage Francis, an unassuming man from Providence, Rhode Island was the first artist that got me into the rap scene. I first got into Sage around the time he released Li(f)e in 2010. The leading song from that record The Best of Times was artistically constructed, intelligently written and not once did he swear, or talk about any of the aforementioned negative qualities. I was shocked and relieved to have come across an act that delivered his material as though it were Spoken-Word poetry with evocative melody and noticeable quality in the way he ‘rapped’. Following this discovery, I immediately downloaded every release in his back-catalogue that I could get my hands on, giving most of my love to his 2005 album A Healthy Distrust simply because of the dark poeticism, mischievous word-play and powerful melodies traversing the eclectic genres available to him.
News that Sage would be releasing a new album Copper Gone on the 3rd June, was enough to send me into a flurry of excitable teenage noises, considering the four years we the fans have waited since his last effort Li(f)e.
Vonnegut Busy was the main single from the album, and the first track I had heard from Copper Gone. The title alone, referring to the satirical author of Slaughter House 5 Kurt Vonnegut is implication enough that there is probably going to be some educated references within the lyrics. The first factor of the song that struck me, as with many other of Sage’s songs is that the music lends no hint that it’s going to be a rap song, something that he is very good at, showing the audience that rap or hip-hop doesn’t need to be confined to the linear option of drum loops. So if you’re a fan of rap, but you’re sick of basic beats or the slow convergence with dubstep, then this is already the first indicator that this may be the album for you.
The opening line of the track is “Of all the words Of Mice and Men, the saddest are ‘It might’ve been'”. to “I see dead people, but who doesn’t” shows that Sage Francis is not a man to take on in a pub quiz, displaying more cultural references than all your Drakes and Eminem’s combined. Personally, I appreciate an artist who is willing to make reflective statements, often to the point of extreme frankness for the sake of lyrical depth. He reads almost like a satirical poet worthy of Chuck Palahniuk. The artist states on his BandCamp that Vonnegut Busy “acts as a stylistic sample dish for what one can expect from the new album, transitioning seamlessly from socio-economic issues to personal politics, all while being punctuated by the project’s overall mission statement: “When it seems like you’re going through hell…keep going.” Though of all the lines in the song, the one that best reflects Sage’s socio-political ulterior motive has to be: “Sometimes I shoot myself in the foot, then I put my foot in my mouth, I clean it whilst it’s there and then I suck the bullet out. Reload the weapon, now that’s conservation, stay locked and loaded in a bad conversation.”
The album continues in a similarly refreshing fashion. Just under midway through the album we encounter a track called Over Under which begins in a melancholic violin/stringed section, as if it were something straight from the mind of Nick Cave. This is not the first time we see something like this from Sage, on his album Human The Death Dance in 2007, the song Got Up This Morning, is ultimately a blues song with delta riffs to boot. The reason this is such a positive quality is because delving into other areas of music, and incorporating less conventional instruments, you gain the opportunity to be more evocative. It’s a well-known fact that few grown-men can withstand a violin or viola in a minor key. Sage uses this expertly when performing a downbeat melody. The following song Make Em Purr leads perfectly on, utilising the piano, the perfect partner in crime to the violin, especially when it’s presented as it is on this track – as if it were prised from a Ludovico Einaudi composition. I’m almost dead-cert that this is literally the case.
If you’re looking for something about Copper Gone to convince you that this record is worth your time, other than the carefully positioned lyrics or the alternative musical roots, then perhaps Sage’s collaborations will be a more convincing factor. On this record, Sage Francis has borrowed the composition talents from his contemporaries, some of which associated to Strange Famous Records, the label that Francis founded, or from peers in the scene. One of the most notable of which is Cecil Otter, a member of the rap-troupe Doomtree, as well as performing as a solo artist. Otter helped produce the music for the opening track Pressure Cooker and the fifth track on the album Dead Man’s Float. Rhode Island contemporary and Strange Famous artist Prolyphic provides music for the single Vonnegut Busy.
In respect to negatives, this album has few. If you’re a long-time listener of Sage Francis, you’ll know that each album is completely different, although distinctly comparable. Copper Gone is another instance of Sage creating a unique sound, yet unmistakably similar. Personally, as a fan of Sage’s more aggressive albums such as A Healthy Distrust in 2005 and Personal Journals in 2002 I feel as though this album lacks that raw animosity, but in reality, how long can you expect someone to be angry? If you’re a fan of Li(f)e and Human The Death Dance, then this is the perfect continuation album, noticeably lacking in the angst of the previous album, investing more time into music and lyricism than expression of negative emotion. Unfortunately, there are a few songs on the album I would consider ‘skippable’ songs, unsurprisingly the reside somewhere near the end of the album, where the tempo has slowed and the warm-up has finished. The music is slower, and more dreamy, allowing the exploration of words and ideas, which unfortunately didn’t do it for me in this instance.
That being said, I would thoroughly recommend that Copper Gone finds its way into your iTunes as soon as possible, if you’re a new listener, or an old dog, this album will be featuring on your most played playlist for the next few weeks.
You can find out more about Sage Francis by visiting his:
Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | BandCamp