Album Reviews

Earl Sweatshirt & The Alchemist – Voir Dire

(Gala) UK release date: 25 August 2023

Sample-heavy arrangements meet personal, intricate lyrics – just don’t expect too much energy

Earl Sweatshirt & The Alchemist - Voir Dire It’s somewhat poetic the way The Alchemist has been developing his sound in recent years – rap production started out with just a beat, then samples came into the mix, and now the beat can be removed altogether to create a more free-flowing effect. Meanwhile rapper Earl Sweatshirt has long been a fan of lo-fi, abstract instrumentals accompanying his laidback delivery, making an album-length collaboration like this very promising indeed.

Voir Dire is brief and enjoyably spontaneous, as most songs restrict themselves to a verse and a hook and snippets of film dialogue help thread tracks together. Madvillainy on downers? There have certainly been worse elevator pitches, and Earl is a lot more personal in his lyrics than the late MF DOOM, particularly on Mac Deuce with bars directed at an old friend (“Don’t be shocked I couldn’t save you from your thoughts or what the fame do / From the sharks and what their fangs do / Or from your heart and what that pain do / From the start, built a box I couldn’t break through”).

Vin Skully is home to some dark memories from Earl’s past and one of the best instrumentals: bass and electric guitar harmonise in a descending ostinato, backed by steady tambourine and the interrupted exclamation of “I remember”. Elsewhere the beat on 27 Braids is smooth like butter, featuring an electric guitar reminiscent of DJ Shadow’s Changeling, wordless backing vocals and some strikingly honest reflections on fatherhood (“She said I got a son on the way / Made my bed so that’s where I’ma lay / My worried bones, my heavy head I carry home every day”).

There is nothing on here as energetic as Making The Band from earlier in the year, and tracks like Sirius Blac and the Blink-182-referencing All The Small Things would be straight-up ambient if it weren’t for Earl flexing over the top. Deadzone is more punchy, staccato chords mingling with erratic twangs, while Geb is perhaps the weakest song on here, with a good verse being undermined by a repetitive, irritating hook which doesn’t complement the vibe.

By the time Free The Ruler’s soulful loop fades out, we’ve only come to a conclusion in the loosest sense. The listener enters Earl’s world in medias res and 25 minutes later he’s still maintaining, still working everything out, but the journey’s been nuanced and engaging.

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Earl Sweatshirt & The Alchemist – Voir Dire