It comes as no surprise that the Roots experienced some band drama during the recording of its latest album, Undun. The LP concerns itself with difficult issues, employing dark or aggressive beats to match moody, heavy lyrics about less-than-cheerful topics—suicide crops up as a thematic element throughout the album, most noticeably on tracks featuring Dice Raw, like “Lighthouse” and “Tip The Scales.”
The series of music videos the Roots released online makes clear the narrative arc of Undun, the band’s first ever concept album. “Sleep,” the first track after the album’s intro, finds Undun‘s main character, Redford Stevens, dead on the street. His death sets the stage for the progression of the album, which redraws his footsteps in downward-sloping chords, sparse beats, introspective verses from MCs like Big K.R.I.T. and Greg Porn as well as a diverse palette of instrumentation. While one track might use some Hendrix-ish guitar work (“Kool On”), another builds most of its sound on a lonely piano (“Redford”). The album even closes out with three orchestral tracks recorded by an ensemble Questlove started working with last spring, bringing an ever wider range of sounds into Undun.
There are lighter moments on Undun: The pretty, murky opening to “Make My” recalls Teebs for just long enough to make the connection before the song kicks into a feel-good beat that defies its heavy lyrical content (not to mention what goes on in the video, posted below). The album’s good moods are generally overshadowed—or at least tinted a bit darker—by the macabre themes and reverse-narrative structure that immediately reveals the tragic fate of the story’s protagonist.
The orchestral songs at the end of the album contain the entire LP’s breadth of emotion in a few movements. The strings become tangled in a cacophonous mess, a jazzier version of the out-of-control sonic emotion at the end of “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground, but soon smooth out into the vibrato peace of pretty string playing, bringing the album’s protagonist to rest.
Tracklist For Undun:
02. Sleep (Feat. Big K.R.I.T. And Dice Raw)
03. Make My
04. One Time
05. Kool On
06. The Otherside (Feat. Bilal Oliver And Greg Porn)
07. Stomp (Feat. Greg Porn)
08. Lighthouse (Feat. Dice Raw)
09. I Remember
10. Tip The Scales (Feat. Dice Raw)
11. Redford (For Yia Yia and Pappou)
12. Possibility (Movement 1)
13. Will To Power (Movement 2)
14. Finality (Movement 3)