For an EP as moody and dense as WNDRKND's Don't Sleep, a collaboration with the producer PGMW, the opening lines effectively set a scene for the next twenty-two minutes: "Shit, I thought of this before while I was mourning a friend/We just flashes in the night, so why we born in this skin?/I say you lookin' at a god when I was formed into sin/Who could be my mentor/Let the story begin."
That sequence alone is enough for listeners to chew on for a moment or two, but on Don't Sleep there's no time for pondering. Imagine the jam-packed, brooding emotion of those four lines repeated dozens of times, on the opener alone. Such head-breaking lyrical and emotional heft is the album's gift and curse.
By largely eschewing the lengthy pauses, bridges, and choruses that have become requisite in modern hip-hop, WNDRKND is able to fit a stunning number of words into each of these songs, with nearly every sequence feeling intentional and deliberate. Those who dig through and explore these lyrics will neither be disappointed nor finished anytime soon.
If you think an emcee's primary job is to take listeners on a journey, a huge contingent may find themselves lost at sea on Don't Sleep, or even missing the boat entirely. Each song on Don't Sleep is a bottomless trove of clever turns of phrase and sharp social critique. The gravity of the proceedings—with the exception of the blunted "Villi"—makes it hard to find an easy access point.
The production of Pittsboro's PGMW, who has worked with Well$ and King Mez, only exaggerates the effect. His otherworldly, left-field sensibilities provide Don't Sleep with an unsettled, ghostly landscape. Ultimately, WNDRKND's verbosity means the audience will desperately crave a mental break from his crunching synths and drums.
Don't Sleep is more interested in challenging the audience than appeasing it; for the few who stick around, it's worth the time.
This article appears in print with the headline "Sooner and Later."