Morality brushes up against capitalist dreams on the 11th LP from hip-hop's pre-eminent live band, an album as bleak and anti-pop as they come.
Following last year's Elvis Costello collaboration and 2010's sprawling and conceptual Undun, the Roots offer a scathing assessment of contemporary hip-hop. It's another conceptual effort that rips the facade off glamorized drug and strip club culture to examine the fraught motivations behind them.
Typically fiery emcee Black Thought is a solemn and almost peripheral presence among grinding rhythms, restless strings, untamed percussion, guest MCs, soul singers and wholesale samples of Nina Simone and experimental French composer Michel Chion. The cumulative effect of these jumbled voices deprives listeners of an easily graspable emotional centre - a move that mirrors the lack of moral grounding the Roots are critiquing.
The half-hour run time makes the relentlessly cerebral approach more palatable, though the ending feels a bit too tidy: the band suddenly turns optimistic on bouncy R&B closer Tomorrow.
Top track: Understand
The Roots play David Pecaut Square June 7 as part of Luminato.