Dr. Yen Lo Days With Dr. Yen Lo

[Pavlov Institute; 2015]

Styles: hypno-hop, disco-drone, noir, propaganda
Others: L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae, Zulu Beats, Natural Elements, Sonic Sum, Roc Marciano, Metal Clergy

On “Day 811,” Ka spits, “When you’re raised around rage and vengeance/ You can change, but in your veins remains major remnants.” It’s the type of rhyme that, coming from someone else, might be used to put an exclamation point on an entire song, an “Oh shit!” moment typically reserved for the end of a track. From Ka, it’s bars 13 and 14 of a 24-bar verse.

Countless wordsmiths have compared the act of writing to that of solving a puzzle, as if each line of every verse and each word of every line has a pre-determined shape and placement, and it’s the author’s job to dig through his or her language to find the pieces with the perfect fit. When the puzzle is complete, the observer can’t see from afar the edges of the pieces sticking out or fitting together. We can’t see how the puzzle was constructed or that it’s a puzzle at all, for that matter. All we can see is the image it was always meant to display.

One could envision such a case with Days With Dr. Yen Lo, a work of art that feels fully realized on every level, from the Bigavelian harmonization of each seamlessly stacked Ka ad lib to the mix-mastery of each precisely-pitched Preservation sample. This contrasts notably from Ka’s Grief Pedigree, which, though also best understood and experienced as a complete work, is still one with an exposed skeleton. As Aesop Rock wrote of the sophomore album, “The record sounds like a guy going through old records in his room and piecing together eerie loops to zone out to. You can really hear the process in there as much as you can hear the finished product…” What Days With Dr. Yen Lo may lack in transparency it gains in cohesion and solidity. (This also sets it apart from Night’s Gambit, which though more sonically diverse than Grief Pedigree, feels conceptually loose by comparison.) Here, there are no cracks in Ka’s iron works. His is a well-oiled killing machine.

Given Ka’s ability to create complex bars that sound inherently natural, it’s hard to focus on any one line for long. So, when he says, for example, “My work per diem is Herculean/ To stay right in the daylight search the PM” on “Day 22,” you’d have to be excused for missing the second- and third-layer meanings, even on your second or third listen. And that’s also because the audio-hypnosis brought on by Ka’s meticulously crafted multis and Preservation’s economically elaborate disco-drone is an element of both cause and effect — production and product. It sends you to the zone from which it came. With this in mind, the album’s Manchurian Candidate motif speaks not only to the brutal indoctrination of America’s working class through institutionalized cycles of crime, “rehabilitation,” and poverty, but to the cold, methodical practice of writing songs that blow your fucking brains out the back of your skull.

A how-to manual coded in appropriated propaganda, Days With Dr. Yen Lo challenges Ka’s followers to not only read between the lines of hip-hop’s collective subconscious, but to also color outside of them.

Links: Dr. Yen Lo


Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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