Sage Francis

Copper Gone

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Exorcising his demons with grinding guitars, uncontrolled beats, and a wicked late-'80s, early-'90s reference ("They were standing on the shoulders of a giant, so defiant, but their feet are stuck/Jesus Jones!"), indie rapper Sage Francis frees himself during the frantic, rock-hard "Pressure Cooker," the opening number on Copper Gone, an album that follows his indie-rocking effort Li(f)e and then four years off. Well, not really "off" as Sage declares "I've been busy!" at the start of the album, referring to time spent volunteering with HIV-Positive orphans in Africa and shoring up his home life. The LL Cool J-loving lyric "Mama said 'Knock down the house, start over!'" gives up half the album's theme, while the key cut, "Vonnegut Busy," offers the other half with "When you're going through hell, keep going," and if the music is the claustrophobic boom-bap of yesterday meeting a vocal delivery that's as bark-like and Twista-esque as ever, all the insight and layered ideas point to an older, wiser Sage now living up to his "given" name. The off-putting "The Place She Feared Most" keeps looking over its shoulder, but Sage's spider senses are interrupted by modern problems ("Don't want to talk in memes/Or let the Internet infiltrate all my dreams") while the majestic "Dead Man's Float" plays out like a stellar night at the poetry slam ("We are all born free, we die by the shackles we adopt/Enjoy your poignancy right up until the very last drop"). The indie influence of the previous effort is reflected in the echoing guitars of "ID Thieves" and the angelic swoops of "Once Upon a Blue Moon," and yet producers like Alias ("The Set Up") and Buck 65 ("Make 'Em Purr") are here too, and take the album down familiar Anticon-ish avenues. But to borrow from LL again, don't call it a comeback, as Copper Gone is a mix of tried and true plus smarter and new, and it's an excellent reason to check in on Sage's evolution.

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