Ishmael Butler: still highing fly.
Ishmael Butler: still highing fly. Patrick O'Brien-Smith

Shabazz Palaces, "Fast Learner" [ft. Purple Tape Nate] (Sub Pop)

The Don of Diamond Dreams, the new LP by Seattle hip-hop innovators Shabazz Palaces, lacks their previous albums' hard, sci-fi angles and rhythmic pugilism. Instead, a much more subdued sonic vision prevails. These 10 songs radiate an intimate glow that's more suited for the bedroom than the big room at the club. "Chocolate Souffle" is probably the only dance-floor-friendly cut here, but even this suave boast rap is too strange for most DJs; however, a line like "I cruise the Champs-Élysées like I'm Maurice Chevalier" deserves to be heard everywhere.

What we have with The Don of Diamond Dreams—which Erik Blood mixed and engineered and which drops April 17—is a slow-grower, a sly seducer, a subterranean ear-tickler. The airy ambience and cushioned beats foster a silk-sheet foundation over which MC/mastermind Ishmael Butler paints vivid verbal scenarios that take multiple listens to decipher. Crucial atmospheric and linguistic contributions come from singer/keyboardist Darrius Willrich, vocalist/rapper Stas THEE Boss, percussionist Carlos Niño, Knife Knights member OCnotes, saxophonist Carlos Overall, and bassist Evan Flory-Barnes of Industrial Revelation.

First single "Fast Learner" bumps oddly out of the gate with one of the craziest cymbal splashes I've ever heard and some Zapp-in-molasses slaps. The stuff happening up top is some fresh, woozy spin on New Age, with backing vocal "woo"s lending a seductive chill. Guest MC Purple Tape Nate—who has no online presence that I can detect—gets off some good lines ("hit it so good, call me a feminist," etc.), his voice somehow dripping with bravado and rue.

The Don of Diamond Dreams is one of those albums with no weak links that will yield a different favorite song with each successive listen. The record's another evolutionary leap in Shabazz Palaces' ascent to new planes of the surreal.