Review: Sapient Strikes Gold on Latest EP

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Before you grab your pitchforks and start rioting: yes, I know Fool For Gold, the latest release from Sapient, came out six months ago. However, I needed time to let it breathe before I wrote my thoughts down (granted, I never intended the digestion process to be this long). Though he is still relatively unknown outside of his hometown, the man’s music means so much to me, so I didn’t want my review to feel reactionary. Because from that very first night, Fool For Gold had me hooked. It was the musical drug I had been longing for and I OD’d on it instantly.

Within a matter of days, I knew Fool For Gold inside and out. I had every verse memorized, I knew the drum patterns, I knew all of Sape’s little vocalizations and grunts. It was nuts. I hadn’t been that enthralled with a new project in years, let alone a new Sapient project. So when I originally went to do my write-up, I had to stop myself and ask, “Well, why? What is it about this EP that has you so excited?” I couldn’t answer the question. Was the project really that great or did his year off in 2015 simply increase my desire for something new? Worse yet, was I just some yes-man?

In short, yes, Fool For Gold really is that great. In fact, it is one of Sapient’s strongest releases in a long time, and I say that as someone who has enjoyed or loved everything he’s done in recent years, including Slump, his Indie Rock effort. The thing I have always loved about Sapient as an artist is his constant desire to push his sound in different directions. 2008’s Letterhead sounds different from 2009’s Make More, which sounds different from 2010’s Barrels for Feathers, and so on and so forth. Every album has a distinct sound despite being unabashedly Sapient through and through, and Fool For Gold is no different.

In a lot of ways, this new EP is arguably Sapient’s most personal record to date. Although he’s never shied away from talking about his family, a lot of his past material is filled with braggadocios lyrics and themes, which were intermittently sprinkled with something personal or emotionally poignant. In part, it was his ability to cast this net that drew me to his music in high school. I was struggling with the current Hip Hop landscape and his frequent “fuck you” lyrics were exactly what I needed at the time.

However, if that’s the Sapient you’re looking for, you’re going to be very disappointed. Because with “Dethy,” the EP’s opener, Sape makes it clear that we’re dealing with a different man, one who has grown more introspective as he’s gotten older and settled down. Not only is he questioning his musical viability in the first verse, but he also gives us a small autobiography in the second verse, which in turn gives us a deeper understanding of the man behind the mic. For a song that is so eye-opening in its honesty, it’s amazing he manages to attack it with such aggression, channeling these somber memories and feelings of self-doubt into something productive and cathartic.

And the drums on this song! Oh those sweet, monstrous drums. It happens a couple of times, but this is the first point on the record where Sapient incorporates these tribal-like drums to make the song feel so much larger than you would have ever thought possible. He also uses them on “Only Silent When Hunting,” which easily has the most eerie beat on the entire EP. There are these distant, echo-y background vocals that, when combined with the drums and these roaring synth leads, make the song feel like something out of an old tribal ritual. “Goosebumps down the back of my neck,” indeed.

Through multiple points on Fool For Gold, as a listener, it feels as if you are eavesdropping on Sapient having these constant debates with himself. Music is this man’s job, but should it have to be? Yet, after dedicating so much of his life to this art form, how does he back out this late in the game? For example, on “The Push,” Sape states, “15 years is not a phase, I don’t get paid for this overtime. I’m pushing. I don’t have a wits end, so quit looking.” And then on “Only Silent When Hunting,” you hear him frustratingly shout, “I’ve lost the enthusiasm, what you want me to do?”

The inner conflict continues on songs like “L.I.E.” and the title track, which contain lyrics such as “I sing for the rich and cheapen my gift (…) Is this high that I chase a placebo or real?” and “Here it comes, there it went. It comes and it goes.” Time and time again, Sapient presents himself as an artist who currently feels trapped in his chosen profession. Not only is he questioning whether or not he made the right decisions, but the music isn’t coming as easy as it once did. As a creator, when you’re having trouble creating, what are you supposed to do? Even thinking about it is anxiety-inducing.

What stumps me, though, is how we can hear him make these claims while simultaneously creating some of his most vibrant and interesting songs. Because from start to finish, the production on Fool For Gold is flawless, and that’s not a word I use lightly. The beats on this EP are all so rich and textured in a way that is incomparable with anything he’s released prior to this record. There is still a heavy use of synths, but he continues to not only use them more sparingly, but also in a way that is more nuanced, so that they add to the wall of sound rather than sticking out like a sore thumb.

Take the lead single “L.I.E.,” for example. By all accounts, the production on this track is mostly synths, but his use of them just feels so smart and refined. Because when you add the snare drum and all of the extra little sound effects, you get something so fun and bouncy it’s almost a crime the song wasn’t playing on the radio. It’s sweet without feeling saccharine, and when you lay the tongue-in-cheek lyrics on top of it, I’m sorry, but the end result is a banger that is worthy of any summertime barbecue playlist.

Still, if I had to lob a complaint about the EP, it would be this: despite being a great song, the title track is one of the most derivative things I’ve ever heard Sapient release. Whenever it comes up on the tracklist, I feel like I’m listening to a mash-up of all of the sounds and styles Sape has experimented with over the past six or seven years. I can talk about the soaring chorus or his slick lyrics all I want, but unfortunately, for someone who is seemingly all about challenging his sound and his fans’ expectations, the fact that he made something that feels so dated for him, well, it’s just a tad disappointing.

With that said, though, it really is a minor gripe in an otherwise perfect record. Although I would have loved to hear more, there is something about the short, tight nature of the whole thing that really helps elevate some of these songs. Everything just feels so perfectly placed and the pacing arguably makes this the easiest listen in his entire discovery. There’s a little bit of everything for those fans who may prefer one specific style of his, even down to “Cave,” which legitimately might be my favorite rock tune of his. The way the bass guitar, snare drum, and flute all compliment one another make it the perfect closer to a near flawless EP.

As a listener, I don’t know what I’m supposed to expect next from Sapient, and as a fan, part of me feels it would be selfish to expect a follow-up anytime soon when the content on this record truly feels like it was an arduous process for him as an artist. These are simultaneously some of his greatest and most tortured songs to date, so how do I ask for more without sounding like a complete jackass? I can’t. Honestly, I know there are fans of his who have tuned out on some of his more recent work, which is fine, but if anyone intentionally ignores this EP, they are doing themselves a great disservice. Because not only is Fool For Gold his most mature release, it is also his most addicting.

Favorite Songs: “Only Silent When Hunting” and “Cave”

Fool For Gold can be found on Amazon, Bandcamp, and iTunes.

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