Putting his Anti label's indie rock connections to good use, Sage Francis’ Li(f)e features the alt-rapper collaborating with members of Califone, Death Cab for Cutie, Grandaddy, and other guitar-based outfits while being solely produced by Brian Deck, who had previously worked with Modest Mouse and Iron & Wine. Sonically, it’s a giant shift from his previous work as the otherworldly and often dark beats of the past are replaced by the traditional guitars, bass, and drums, but Sage is primarily the same, cynical as hell and able to knock listeners out of their comfort zone with lyrics that are as true as they are unsettling. As far as growth, his lurid and flippant lines -- a good example being “I heard God was coming/And she’s a screamer” from “I Was Zero” -- are complemented by more subtle blows against the empire as wisdom and restraint come into play on the album’s meatier numbers. When it all comes together, it’s magnificent, as when indie-riffing guitars, a surprisingly hooky chorus, and the whole “life equals lie” theme of the album combine on “Love the Lie.” You can bob your head and sing along as Sage covers a whirlwind of concerns on the track including God, girls, and staying together for the kids. Nearly as good is “Worry Not,” which is somewhere between a Tom Waits number and front-porch rave-up as it offers “Anxiety is a disease/You gotta learn to live with it” with banjo accompaniment. “Damned if you do/Damned if you don’t” is the closest thing to an answer here and sometimes the indie rock/alt-rap mashing seems nothing more than a well-executed exercise in genre-blending, but these are small complaints that will seem miniscule to the man’s loyal fan base. Taking on both the BS and sobering-side-of-life lessons while straddling genres would be difficult for any musician, but Sage did it and came up with a B-plus effort. More tangible proof that he’s a gifted artist.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries