Review Summary: Aesop Rock returns with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz to release one of the more interesting hip hop albums this year.
Well, guess who’s back? Aesop Rock with his less notable emcee protégé, Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz on the turntables together making Hail Mary Mallon. For all those who aren’t aware who exactly Mary Mallon is, she was the first healthy carrier discovered for the typhoid, and is somewhat famous for refusing to cooperate with the authorities when they attempted to quarantine her. She worked as a household cook, and after getting several households inflicted with typhoid and refusing tests from doctors because of her beliefs that they were discriminating against her because she was Irish, she was forcibly quarantined for three years. Once she was released, she worked as a laundress for a short time before changing her name and going back to cooking and infecting twenty-five more people before being caught once more and quarantined for the rest of her life.
What does this have to do with the album? Well, knowing Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic, under layers and layers of convoluted and obscure metaphors, it probably has something to do with something, most likely either the state of the music industry or some other cynical rant of that nature. But, you know, figuring that out will take repeated listens with close attention being paid and reading lyrics. And all made more difficult by the louder, more melodic, and gritty at the same time version of El-P’s production that Aesop Rock has picked up. It’s also probably the more defining characteristic of the album.
Aesop sets a chaotic and dystopian sonic setting throughout the album, rough electric guitars and heavy drums leading the way along with various other layers of sound in every song, save two puzzlingly underproduced tracks compared to the rest of the album, one of which is “Breakdance Beach,” driven completely by the hitting of drums, seemingly discussing an imaginary place “away from the streets, the cops, and the heat, and the fakeass beats, where the waves, and the sands, and the spray cans meet,” the other being “Grubstake,” seemingly talking about ‘played out’ subject material. Truth be told, they don’t really work with the rest of the album, which paints angry atmospheres I might liken to a futuristic and crime-ridden setting. “Grubstake” and “Breakdance Beach,” however, seem like a jump back in time, the former sounding like an electronic and idiosyncratic version of a southern beat, the latter like an African drum beat type composition. Aside from those two, all the beats are hectic and heavy, with Aesop and Rob rapping while varying between flows every track and making memorable hooks.
However, that’s not to say their performances are flawless. Aesop Rock’s drawl has started sounding even more nasal, if possible, and will begin to get annoying on certain tracks after repeated listens. He’s started to less clearly enunciate his words (or perhaps that’s the result of the gritty production?), which makes the way he raps sound more rolling, and for much of the album when he’s rapping he’s actually, for the most part, completely outperformed by Rob Sonic in terms of flow and delivery, and it seems Rob’s lyrics’ meanings are equally as convolutedly hidden as Aesop Rock’s. Neither are really deficient in any particular area, except perhaps the enjoyability of their voices, which isn’t really their fault, and when Aesop lays down the angry and complex beats, they actually complement their voices, though not in ways that some might find enjoyable.
In summary, this album may or may not be for you. It’s a huge depart from any of Aesop’s previous works sonically, and frequently quite enjoyably so. Neither emcee’s performances will ever really jump out at you as having ‘ripped’ the beat, but the raps are certainly enjoyable, and the production isn’t totally consistent, though pretty close to being so. If you feel like trying something new and weird, like, say, trying to be friends with that smart kid who’s interesting but happens to be the fear of everyone around him because of his idiosyncrasies, then this album might be for you. However, he’s not the most fun kid, and if he’s not your type, you’ll probably hate his guts. In any case, for what it is, the album’s good.