“I’m a bird, I’m a tree, I’m a bike, I’m a plane, I’m the ground underneath your feet, I’m the rain in the sky, I’m a cloud, I’m the sun, I’m a star, shoot hoops through Saturn’s rings, world’s in my palm, I’m a bear, I’m a dog, I’m a chair so get off, I’m an action figure, but I’m not trapped in a box, I’m free, free with the world at my feet, humming A-Team theme as I’m running down the street.” – “Shapeshift”
Kieren Dickins aka DELS is a new type of rapper (which is another way of saying that he’s more than just a rapper). Applying the kind of attention to detail, micro-management and macro-vision which Jay-Z used to build a business empire, DELS makes art. Popular art mind you, but art all the same, an album of emotional peaks, musical innovation and surreal, brilliant lyrics, held together by such a unique, such a strong vision that it sounds almost silly to suggest it’s just a debut. Already causing a stir with the tasters “Shapeshift” and “Trumpalump” (and the videos he masterminded for them), everything is now ready to show how these pieces fit into the bigger picture.
Dickins recorded “GOB” with just three producers, all of whom he has collaborated with for a significant amount of time and all of whom are more interested in creating something with him than in giving him a beat to rhyme on. Micachu is perhaps best known for her “indie” work with her band The Shapes but her interest in grime and hip hop is as well documented in a series of mixtapes and videos on YouTube. Together she and DELS create the bad-trip anthem “Melting Patterns” and “Violina,” which catches all the disorientation and anger of a relationship break-up. Longtime mentor and friend Joe Goddard of Hot Chip is represented by both “Trumpalump” (featuring his own beautifully melancholy/hopeful chorus) and Shapeshift, plus a brand new track, “Capsize,” which dissects something of the current political situation in the company of Roots Manuva (the only guest MC on the record) – a kind of “Ghost Town” for a new generation.
The bulk of the album, though, comes from Kwes. Already known for his singles on Young Turks plus production work for the likes of the Invisible and the XX, in Kwes DELS found his perfect foil. In a suite of tracks ranging from “Hydronenburg,” through the truly remarkable “Moonshining,” and on into the insanely ambitious “Eating Clouds” (an earlier version of which was first heard on Ninja Tune’s XX compilation last year), DELS and Kwes lay out the sheer, revolutionary extent of their ambition early. But it’s in the last three tracks of the record, “DLR,” “Droogs” and “GOB” that the record reaches its fruition. A track about a homeless woman (“DLR,” featuring a beautiful vocal contribution from sometime bandmate Elan Tamara) and a true story of rape and child abuse told in reverse (the Nadsat-titled “Droogs”), this could be a downbeat end to a record if it wasn’t for the brilliance with which the subjects are treated, both musically and vocally. And if it wasn’t for the last track, “GOB.” “GOB” shows Dickins, angry, battered, but ultimately hopeful, rising up through all the shit of the world determined to triumph, succumbing neither to the nonsense around him or his own quest for perfection, gradually lifted aloft on a monster of a piece of music (it would be doing it a misservice to call it a ‘beat’) from Kwes.
It’s a superb end to what is sure to be a breakthrough record for DELS, one which he can take a huge amount of credit for, having been intimately involved in every aspect of its creation, from artwork and videos, right down to the fonts. Despite the title of his record, DELS is no loud mouth. He talks quietly, in measured tones, but when he talks we listen.