The Perceptionists

Black Dialogue

(Def Jux; 2005)

By Dom Sinacola | 28 November 2007

Before their debut LP, Black Dialogue, was released, I saw the Perceptionists. Mr. Lif and Akrobatik gyrated in front of DJ Fakts One until an obligatory spume of cigarette smoke gathered on stage; Ak coughed and Lif got all solemn and Ak confessed he had to leave stage because all that youth-cancered naughtiness was getting to his voice. Fakts looked like he was used to it. I learned that, yes, they were serious.

When I finally got my hands on Dialogue, the lesson continued. In “Memorial Day,” Bush, Rumsfeld, and Condoleeza are verbally assaulted by a common soldier with a nervous trigger finger, asserting an empirical “soldier” along a reeling bassline, bloated snare, and slithering string production from Cyrus the Great. With “What Have We Got to Lose?!?” I learned that Cyrus enjoys the splat-happy snare, that his spare beats are saved by vigor and tinny flourishes of repetitive electro-pop. I learned that the Perceptionists’s politics are too watery and too interspersed with head-friendly party tracks and sappy Life is Beautiful praise songs to truly resonate as noxious darts aimed at war politik or Black corporate hegemony.

This copy of Dialogue, it taught me about El-P’s grandiose sadness, about seriously juxtaposing Fakts’s sporadic headphone powder and thick scratching with industrial steam power. “Blo” and “Frame Rupture” move sleepily into an anti-disco kind of séance, but whether Akrobatik is concentrating mercilessly on snapping each syllable or whether Mr. Lif is winding through a constant assonance, they both sound out-of-step with El Producto. But Fakts One, where is he? The MCs are the stars, and that’s nothing new, but it’s too bad that the press list of solid guest producers leave Fakts faceless against the back wall of the control room.

It just keeps on teaching. Like how indelibly in sync Akrobatik and Lif appear, especially on Camutao produced “Party Hard” and clap-friendly “Career Finders.” Or why someone screamed, “Symbiotic, motherfuckers!” when Fakts started up “5 O’Clock” on stage, learn how such liquid exchange can keep the tracks tamed, keep the lyrics from scaling over each other to reach more visceral confrontations and more radical politics. Then there's Humpty Hump, the original lollipop of sleaze, who allows Lif and Ak to stay conversational on “Finders,” the spite and ego in each voice coming through the marrow of Fakts’s bass jumping funny bone.

Not to mention the lesson to be had in “Breathe in the Sun” or “Love Letters,” which I can see amounting to dissing Willie Evans, Jr. for slicking the Perceptionists’s rhymes with smooth jazz and Zero 7 loveydovey-ness, although I’ll probably laugh at, “See, you the second grade teacher for my homeboy’s seed.” I see the variety in Black Dialogue, El-P’s unctuous mechanisms, Cyrus’s anachromisms, Fakts’s in-betweenisms, and I can admire it.

I will learn what it means to be safe, efficient, healthy, progressive, white, Black, and a closet obsessive of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Black Dialogue could be a primer, but the throngs of Def Jux have just gotta have something more vicious in store.