Sage Francis has always defied the conventions of hip-hop, but this time he's really thrown a wrench into its gears. While the lyrics and beats on Li(f)e are rooted in the genre, the musicality bears a scant resemblance. It's mostly a mix of indie rock/folk and punk featuring guest songwriters from a range of groups like Califone and Calexico, and it's a remarkably fresh fusion that fits well with Francis' rhymes, which are rife with colorful images, sarcastic observations and exquisite narrative.
Francis hones his eye for detail in the lush indie folk tune "Little Houdini," which follows the true story of Christopher Daniel Gay—a man who kept escaping incarceration in order to see his ailing parents. On "Diamonds and Pearls," he digs his poetic teeth into people who lie, while a morose groove featuring string instruments perfectly complements the dark mood. Other tracks dart between iconoclastic thoughts on religion and politics, to ruminations of his life. It's all totally absorbing, though it takes awhile to sink in. But it's worth every minute.
Francis has always been ahead of most in the indie rap pack, but with Li(f)e, he's in a league of his own.
Sage Francis plays the Palace Wednesday, May 26, at 9 PM with Free Moral Agents and B. Dolan. $15 advance at Ear Candy.