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Album Review: Earl Sweatshirt // SICK!

A reflective and candid record, SICK! showcases Earl Sweatshirt’s development in both character and lyrical ability, as he explores pandemic life through the lens of witty metaphors and gritty honesty.

Marking Sweatshirt’s first LP release since 2019’s FEET OF CLAY, this new collection started life during lockdown, after the initial album idea was scrapped in favour of one dealing with current events. Although references to COVID are frequent throughout the lyrical content, they don’t overwhelm the record, instead offering glimpses into Sweatshirt’s mind via clever wordplay.

The statement-like opener of ‘Old Friend’ presents a powerful introduction to the album, with bold production providing the backdrop for Sweatshirt to lay heavy lines about struggling through lockdown. The track explores the catch 22 situation of risking health to go out and work, vs staying indoors and facing monetary loss – a situation encountered by many at the height of the pandemic.

Sweatshirt’s voice is unwavering, unafraid to be political. The album is short, with songs delivered quickly – mirroring the unrelenting thoughts and feelings triggered by lockdown life. Only three songs make it past the three minute mark, the rest falling at around two minutes or under. It adds an addictive edge to the record, with the record’s 24-minute runtime allowing for easy repeatability.

Title track ‘SICK!’ is a gloomy exploration of mental health battles and misfortunes, whilst ‘2010’ offers more positivity, with Sweatshirt referencing his own rise from humble beginnings; ‘Long way to go / We already came so far’. Each of his album releases has reflected on a different part of his life, with Sweatshirt’s lyricism providing catharsis within it’s honesty; ‘Story stayed the same, it was never made up’.

Well-chosen samples enhance the record, from the pure poetry positioned against the piano soul of ‘Tabula Rasa’, to the raspy vocals laid over 70s rock in ‘Lye’. The collaboration with Zelooperz in ‘Vision’ serves a brighter, more optimistic outlook on the world, with grainy instrumentals providing the soundtrack to fast flowing lines about money struggles and the need for companionship, sealed by a sample of La Mont Zeno Theatre’s ‘Black Fairy’.

‘Titanic’ gives a nod to the legendary MF DOOM; ‘Mask on like a supervillain / Daniel, who you in the den with? Lion’, while fading guitars close the album in the instrumentally colourful ‘Fire In The Hole’. SICK! encompasses a whole range of emotions, from hope to despair, with Sweatshirt’s tightly wound verses and slick production bounding the record together. It serves as a time capsule containing two years worth of lockdowns and fear, whilst still looking forward the future in a quiet plea for better times.

Author avatar
Ellie Howorth

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