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Earl Sweatshirt - Sick! (Album Review)

Wednesday, 19 January 2022 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Ryosuke Tanzawa

The push-pull at the heart of Earl Sweatshirt’s writing is between its introspection—his shelter-in-place life analysis—and its shapeshifting musical priorities. It’s a dynamic that he’s consistently able to make work for him, with any friction turned into creative fuel.

The pointed provocations of his Odd Future days and the whole ‘Free Earl’ thing are increasingly small dots in his rearview, with ‘Sick!’ another rich, textural record that underlines the versatility of his deliberate delivery.

Following the stifling staging of ‘I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside’ and the almost confrontationally hazy one-two of ‘Some Rap Songs’ and ‘Feet of Clay’, here Earl is happy to lob a few curveballs at us in the form of soul samples and instrumental flourishes, all the while letting his words land with the characteristic thought and precision of his more recent work.

There is still a heaviness to ‘Sick!’, with the pandemic casting a long shadow and splitting this record from a longer, apparently more ebullient, project somewhere along the way, but its overriding pleasure is found in hearing a supremely charismatic rapper execute with maximum confidence.

Earl snaps in and out of woozy instrumentals and delicate piano hooks with the same sure-footed style, eating up the ground after entering the fray late on Tabula Rasa and jousting with the Alchemist’s slick horn samples on Lye. When things get more abstract, he only grows bolder: the title track is like trying to follow a conversation from across a room, with zero concessions.

It’s odd to call an artist like Earl reliable because he’s liable to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, but almost a decade on from ‘Doris’ that doesn’t seem to affect his hit-rate one bit. ‘Sick!’ is a challenging, sometimes confounding, release that is also immensely satisfying once you’re tuned into its wavelength.

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