The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Shabazz Palaces
Lese Majesty Daniel Ross , August 8th, 2014 06:11

It's so easy to assume that just because we don't quite grasp an album the first time round, it's cleverer than us and, therefore, brilliant. Shabazz Palaces' first LP, Black Up performed this trick superbly, but you see, it really was brilliant - a marvellous, virtuosic concoction that treated idiosyncrasy as a default setting, writhed around in its own intelligence like a particularly faeces-clad pig, and chucked in just about enough head-bob to make it palatable. Listening to its follow-up, Lese Majesty, you're tempted to grab Shabazz majordomo Ishmael Butler's wrist and give him a curt "Look, we're not doing this again, I don't know if I've got the energy for your shenanigans," but it only takes a song and a half to realise that we're better off just letting him get on with it.

'Forerunner Foray' only takes a couple of minutes to convince you that all ideas can be put on hold while we float into a pulseless choral dream and out again, one bookended by intentionally leaden, slab-ish bursts of verbosity. The thuds of Butler's verses only serve to make the shit-I've-gone-into-orbit feeling of the choral sections that bit more celestially pleasing. In short, it's absolutely fucking splendid. Elsewhere, like on their first record, the tics of wordplay still charm: simply pronouncing the word "glitter" both as "glitter" and "glidder" in the same sentence is, somehow, quite transfixing, indicative of a lyrical mind in love with sound as much as meaning. And it's sound that rattles from left to right and bleeds into newer, ever more perplexing sounds, sketches like 'Solemn Swears' veering from serene coatings of synthesiser and EITS whistles to tense tittering about Jack Palance, of all things, and all in just 94 seconds - a state of dazzlement is completely commonplace.

Of course, even the most inventive of minds gets tired; Lese Majesty is most certainly a bit too long. By the time we get to '#CAKE', about two thirds of the way through, the delirium of the album's early inventiveness has palled slightly, settling into a more relaxed state of mere confusion; '#CAKE' itself is mostly a nightmarish collage of clangs and bangs accompanied by Butler saying very little aside from "I'm having my cake and I'm eating cake", and it plainly doesn't do as much as everything that came before it. The invention doesn't cease completely (in fact, the final third would make an EP finer than most acts would be capable of), but there's a definite shift down in gears. A leaner closing act may have made for something approaching a milestone in the year's haul of albums and there’s no doubt that plenty of commentators will hail it in that way, but it's a mite frustrating to think of what could've been: a near-perfect execution of what Shabazz Palaces set out to do.

But lawks, who's complaining? What towers above the album on its completion, after we've tolerated the slight slump of the final third, is the sense that Butler and his squeakier-voiced cohort Tendai Maraire have not given themselves too many rules. It's possible that no ideas were vetoed here, but rather than conjuring a fatuous, indulgent mess, they've engineered a freewheeling ease of delivery for what can sometimes be incredibly difficult and complex material. At no point do we ever doubt that these boys have brains so big they're pushing the wax out of their ears, but nor does it ever feel so haughty that you can't love it. And unlike most things that labour under an impression of being overly, scarily brainy, it is anything but difficult to love Lese Majesty.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.