Deltron 3030’s long-delayed sophomore album, Deltron Event II, picks up nearly a century after the group’s self-titled 2000 sci-fi concept album left off, and things have only grown worse in their dystopian future. A catastrophic bank crash has set off interplanetary wars that have wiped out entire civilizations, and the survivors live among the nuclear fallout in meager shanties, where they’re easily preyed upon by roving bandits and, just as often, their own government.
The years since Deltron 3030 haven’t been nearly as bleak for the real-life team behind the project, but they haven’t exactly been boom times, either. Though he’s issued a steady stream of independent releases, rapper Del The Funky Homosapien hasn’t had a hit, commercial or critical, since the Gorillaz single “Clint Eastwood.” Producer Dan The Automator has experienced a similar dip in his own stock, as the kind of hip, forward-thinking artists that once lined up to work with him began turning to Danger Mouse instead. Meanwhile, DJ Kid Koala has seen the turntablism movement that brought him to prominence around the turn of the century recede back into obscurity. It’s no wonder, then, that the Deltron crew feels such solidarity with the rag-tag renegades that Del raps about on Event II. Like their characters, they’re true believers who have been put out by the times.
Del and Dan The Automator in particular remain united not only by their idiosyncratic tastes, but also their rigidity. Both are reluctant to deviate from their usual lanes, so Deltron’s belated sequel never breaks from its predecessor—every track sounds like it could have been recorded during the original 3030 sessions. By clinging so closely to the first album’s template, Event II risks playing like a lesser copy, but there’s no real dip in quality here. Del retains his gift for making multisyllabic, exposition-rich tongue twisters seem effortlessly conversational, and Automator’s cinematic accompaniments are as engrossing as ever, all rousing swells and hyperkinetic breakbeats. It’s been a decade since either artist has been in such fine form.
The project hasn’t lost any of sense of scale, either. From Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Star Wars scroll of an opening monologue, the album has the feel of a true event, and a stacked guest roster lends the proceedings a touch of unpredictability. Damon Albarn, Zack De La Rocha, and AWOLNATION’s Aaron Bruno deliver punchy choruses; David Cross and Amber Tamblyn contribute a couple of skits; and The Lonely Island take a song to themselves, rapping as old timers longing for the days before kids took time travel for granted. Though these interludes are all played for absurdist humor, they’re all rooted in the same themes of nostalgia that run through Del’s many pensive verses about how much better things used to be. “Wind the clock back to a simpler time, where you could talk and speak your mind without assault or attack or combat,” Del raps wistfully on the closer “Do You Remember.” For an album set in the distant future, Event II’s heart lies solidly in the past.