Sandman has quirky taste in beats.
What’s a guy have to do to get respect? Born Angel Del Villar II, Homeboy Sandman has churned out solid records for a decade of clever linguistics and eccentric beats. But he’s still mentioned a lot less than, say, Aesop Rock, who collaborated with Sandman on last year’s excellent Lice EP. Rock is featured on the closing song of Sandman’s new album Kindness for Weakness, which is typically sharp word-wise and an improvement on his last full-length beats.
Consistently interesting, Sandman has quirky taste in beats from tropicália to minimalist classical to hazy soul-jazz. He packs these full of dense, technical wordplay: professorial but warm, gritty when necessary, sometimes pensive and ever aware of the always-important issue of class. Sandman “don’t make the same jam or record twice, I am way too nice,” but he can be inconsistent. You may not want to listen to him for more than a few songs at a time, which is probably why he’s released so many EPs.
As with much alt-rap, the density can feel a little overwhelming to anyone who isn’t a dedicated fan. Sandman’s words would be exhausting without his talent for surreal ebbs and flows. While his last album Hallways sounded awkward and ungainly, the new one solidly reaffirms his sheer musicality. With a brief funk instrumental splitting it down the middle, every track except “Keep It Real” (despite ample flow from English rapper Mystro) offers up its pleasures.
Opening with the stoned “Heart Sings,” hazy soul-jazz vocals blur over murky bass and snatches of wet guitar blips that recall “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” Sandman is usually faster and less leisurely with his words, but this typifies his general sound, strangely snakelike even when it bounces. “If it ain’t sunny, I don’t spazz/ If it ain’t funny, I don’t laugh.”
He consciously stays away from anthem-style hits to mixed results. “Seam by Seam,” (whose beat sounds too much like “Eyes,” the second track here) bleeds into a sad, moaning chorus from guest Until the Ribbon Breaks that’s the only memorable part of the song. The otherwise flat delivery doesn’t get the dense lyrics across. On a positive note, the charming, light-on-its-feet “Talking (Bleep)” raves bemusedly over a warped samba beat like something ‘90s Tom Zé, rattlesnake tambourines building to choruses of “You sound like this” that cuts to goofy wah-wah. (This one opens with a surreal Saturday-morning alien cartoon theme, too.)
For sheer stamina, check the upbeat blippy rush of “Real New York,” where Sandman evokes the giddy dash downtown, coming fast and breathless with a barrage of “off” rhymes: “Shake it off/ Stroganoff/ Strokin’ off/ Broken off,” and beyond. For a similar tone, try “Earth, Wind, Fire, Water,” with a quick-spattering drum loop over the chords of what sounds like a celebratory disco slow-dance. Or the spare Brazilian-sounding drum beat of “Sly Fox,” where Sandman reflects on a woman he admits is a little mean; when the beat picks up midway, he unleashes that “I swear to God this girl is like the most artistic person/ She can paint and she can draw and she can knit and she can DJ and she’s crazy at ‘em all/ And she’s tall and really pretty and I know it’s not profound,” which he delivers as if it truly is profound.
Try the murky bass and lovely guitar lick of “Nonbelievers,” his voice sinking in quick waves, or the sunny flute-and-piano loop of “God” (concerning the unapologetic leaps, including his, that put a nice face on ugly things that don’t deserve them): “God gives it all, so I dig it all.” For his more reproachful side, check “Eyes,” hard hi-hat against a creepy piano scale and anti-sellout sentiments. The moaned choruses of “It’s Cold” recall the class-conscious tracks on the Subject: Matter EP: “These are teams that might got reasons to make change/ These are teams that ain’t got pieces to make trades.”
Capping it off is the genuinely touching “Speak Truth,” which features a gentle organ swell, soft but not slow, and lyrical simplicity: “Speak truth when it’s not easy, speak truth when it’s gon’ hurt/ Speak truth when they gon’ look at you strange/ Speak truth anyway.” It could have used a better chorus than just the word “truth” sung in that goofy hum-whistle, a typical flaw of a guy this restless. Truth: as proper Homeboy Sandman albums go, this is no Actual Factual Pterodactyl or First of a Living Breed, but it‘s a healthy listen in an unhealthy world.