released May 11th, 2010

from the album - I Was Zero

from all music

Born Paul Francis in 1977 in Miami, FL, Sage Francis spent most of his youth in Providence, RI. Interested in the poetic side of rap, Francis has been rhyming since age eight, later winning the Superbowl Battle in Boston in 1999 and the Scribble Jam in Cincinnati in 2000 and 2001 (the last under the name of his "metal" alter ego, Xaul Zan). After graduating from Dean College in Massachusetts with an A.A. in communications and from the University of Rhode Island-Kingston with a B.A. in journalism (where he started the now-defunct group Art Official Intelligence), Francis worked on releasing his solo records. Always an outspoken and political rapper and a strict vegetarian, he started the Sick Of series in 2000 on his independent Strange Famous Records with Still Sick...Urine Trouble, and continued with Sick of Waiting Tables (2001), Sick of Waging War (from 2002, and containing the single "Makeshift Patriot," recorded exactly one month after the September 11 attacks on New York), and Sickly Business (2004). He also released one album on Anticon in 2002, Personal Journals, and was signed in 2004 as the first rap artist on Epitaph Records, which issued his highly anticipated A Healthy Distrust in 2005. Two years later he was working with composer/trumpeter Mark Isham on the soundtrack for Pride and Glory starring Edward Norton. Two tracks from these session ended up on Francis' own 2007 full-length, Human the Death Dance. His 2010 effort Li(F)e was his first for the Anti label. The album featured guest appearances from Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Red Red Meat) and Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie) along with members of Calexico. Sage Francis is one half of the Non-Prophets (Joe Beats is the producer and DJ), who first recorded the 12" Drop Bass/Bounce/I Keep Calling on their friend's Emerge Records in 1999. A full-length album on Lax Records, Hope, came out in 2004. The very dark Human the Death Dance followed in 2007 with productions from Alias, Buck 65, and Odd Nosdam along with two tracks produced by composer/trumpeter/jazz man Mark Isham. Li(f)e from 2010 went a completely different direction, being solely produced by Brian Deck and featuring musicians from the indie rocks bands Califone, Death Cab for Cutie, and Sparklehorse.

album review

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.

Track Listing

1 Little Houdini
2 Three Sheets to the Wind
3 I Was Zero
4 Slow Man
5 Diamonds and Pearls
6 Polterzeitgeist
7 The Baby Stays
8 16 Years
9 Worry Not
10 London Bridge
11 Love the Lie
12 The Best of Times