Earl Sweatshirt combines ingenuous approach, authentic lyrical expression

Evan Sawires, asst. opinions editor

When Earl Sweatshirt’s first commercial album, Doris, was released in 2013, its style was something of a surprise. Poetic, introspective and occasionally amelodic, it avoided the lyrical thrills of his debut mixtape, Earl, released three years earlier when he was 16 under LA collective Odd Future (OF) right before their ascent to the national music scene. Instead, Doris came off as complex, understated and disconnected as he tried to find his sound.

Earl pushes that muted, detached vibe even further in the ten track, half-hour album…I Don’t Go Outside. That sounds like a downgrade, but it totally isn’t; in an interview with NPR immediately after its release, Earl said “It’s the first album I fully stand behind, like the good and the bad of it…I’ve never been this transparent with myself or with music.”

Sure enough, it’s brutally honest and absurdly cohesive, even by Earl’s standards. The lyrics are consistently dark, touching on his self-isolation and anxiety, but his characteristic wittiness and sense of humor translate well even into that territory.

Musically, Earl creates a lot with very little. With the exception of the Left Brain-produced “Off Top”, …I Don’t Go Outside is entirely self-produced and relies heavily on the style of vaguely jazzy counterpointing that’s always popular among OF groups. The beats are largely industrial and distant, with muted drums and occasional keyboard interludes. It employs a wide range of styles and sounds, but it’s cohesive almost to a fault; the beats flow in and out of each other, at points sounding like only one track.

One of the highlights of the album is its closer “Wool”. I’m not big on the lyrics, but the tried-and-true team  of Earl and Hell Can Wait rapper Vince Staples expertly play off each other’s flow. Opener “Huey” is another peak, with an organ-driven hook and an engaging rhythm. My personal highlight comes in the lead single “Grief”, where lyrics poetic enough to stand on their own are placed over a hazy, industrial beat that is nonetheless one of the most identifiable parts of the album.

The lyrics are seriously brutal, as some of the most direct references to the album’s content: “Lately I been panicking a lot/feeling like I’m stranded in a mob/scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop” and “I just want my time and my mind intact/when they both gone you can’t buy ‘em back”.

“DNA” is another interesting track where Earl’s rapping takes on a tuplet heavy, broken up style he’s rarely utilized. He absolutely goes off in this one and it’s awesome. Although the lyrics are unmemorable (OF ally and non-rapper Na’kel’s feature feels forced in particular), they’re delightfully unorthodox and Earl’s rhythm-switching flow demands attention.

More than anything, his style-hopping comes off as honest and genuine. A far cry from the shock rap of Earl and a maturing of the stylistically insecure sounds of Doris, …I Don’t Go Outside sounds like Earl no longer has anything to prove. He’s just doing what he does, and that authenticity is the most tangible aspect of one of my new favorite albums.