By the time Sage Francis’ fourth album, Li(f)e, draws to a close, the rapper has labeled just about everything imaginable a lie, from his old standbys of organized religion and corrupt governments to existence itself—just in case he missed calling out anything else specifically. Francis doesn’t offer any new truths, though, probably because beneath its surface, Li(f)e isn’t about lying. It’s about romanticizing escape, a preoccupation only hinted at five years ago on A Healthy Distrust’s “Escape Artist.”
The obsessing starts romantically with “Little Houdini,” a patient, ripped-from-the-headlines song inspired by Christopher Daniel Gay, a Tennessee fugitive who sprung himself from jail several times in the last decade not to go on crime sprees, but to visit his dying parents. It’s obvious what anti-authoritarian Francis sees to celebrate in this story, but draws into question what exactly he’s running from on Li(f)e. Sage’s biggest detour is from hip-hop’s confines, as the album drafts a laundry list of indie-rock songwriting partners from Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla (on the sunny, explosive “Three Sheets To The Wind” and “London Bridge”) to Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous (on the eerily funereal “Love The Lie”). The end result is a new soundtrack for the same old song and dance: Sage still ekes out a chuckle-inducing rhyme here and there, but it’s nothing he hasn’t done before.