Review Summary: A match made in heaven all right....
I’m sure most fans of Aesop Rock’s latest album Skelethon
heard that little boy’s voice in the songs “Racing Stripes” and “Crows 1” and thought, “Gee, Aesop is good and everything but if this little boy made a record with him, THAT’D be the perfect album.” Well, the 4 people who thought that have their wish and while that little boy mentioned earlier isn’t a little boy, it’s Kimya Dawson (Juno’s soundtrack), it doesn’t change the fact that she has no business making a whole record of boring, nonsensical indie/rap drivel with Aesop Rock. This record fails in almost every way possible, you’ve seen paint peel with more passion than the music presented here. Lyrically, if something can be labeled as pointlessly quirky, this is it, and even when executing its ideas the album suffers from a massive case of the hiccups. The ONLY saving grace this album has is Aesop Rock and while listening to the record you get the feeling even he knew this was a bad idea.
From the get go, and maybe this is what the twosome were aiming for, Dawson and Aesop’s voices do not mesh together well at all. Dawson employs a matter-of-factly, sing-songy, monotone delivery which when combined with Aesop’s, a deep-voiced flow-centric style where each word bleeds into the next, sounds frankly awkward most of the time. When the two attempt to harmonize at points like in the song “Delicate Cycle” (a metaphor on life through the lens of public washing machine facilities), it sounds like the two voices are fighting with each other, not combative fighting but marital fighting where the husband and wife are ignoring what the other is saying and have resorted to talking over the other to prove a point. This feeling permeates Hokey Fright
, an awkward situation where two people are forced to coincide but want to do their own thing.
A good rule of thumb concerning the songs of Hokey Fright
is that if Dawson’s guitar playing is the focal point, the song will be bad. Perhaps she is better than what she shows here, but what she is
showing here are guitar parts that stand-up comedians would write, simplistic, boring, derivative, and easy to sing over. Adding in the fact that there seems to be only four or five versions of her guitar wizardry recycling through the record, don’t be surprised if your shoulders slump and you let out a sigh whenever the acoustic guitar shows up. This recycling affects more than your ears though, Aesop’s flow and delivery in songs where Dawson plays guitar is so noticeably same-y it’s sad. This isn’t his fault though as a huge chunk of the songwriting throughout the entire record is geared toward Dawson’s sensibilities and not towards both of them collectively which leads to same-y guitar begetting same-y flow from Aesop. In fact a lot of the group’s image overall seems to be geared towards Dawson’s persona. From a lot of the pictures that are out to the music videos they’ve released, everything has this odd, cutesy, undertone that make it hard to believe Aesop has much to do with. One only has to compare the dark undertones of the music video for Aesop Rock’s “Zero Dark Thirty” or the urban Kung-Fu video for “ZZZ Top” with the complete turnover in imagery and mood of “Delicate Cycle” or “Earthquake” and it becomes harder and harder to imagine that this image was totally agreed upon by both parties. The two’s styles just don’t fit. It’s akin to shoving the circle piece half way into the square hole and calling it good. Another perfect example of this can be heard in the song “Wyhuom” (listen to it and you’ll know what this means) which is 197 seconds of the two calling each other, saying one and only one phrase and hanging up, with a little beat thrown in the middle of each call. To be honest the beat is pretty nifty the first couple times it pops up especially after trudging through most of the record up till this point but it goes absolutely nowhere and is easily the most pointless, overlong, and annoying interlude/song hybrid in a long while.
However, some light does shine through the canopy of mediocrity that is this record, the common theme being either an erasure of Dawson’s presence or at least her being regulated to background duties. “TV on 10” is easily the best song here, which after Dawson is done talking in the intro exhibits a good and catchy beat and well used ambient noises accompanied by Aes’ smooth flow. Unfortunately, the Aesop heavy songs are the only ones worth listening to multiple times, if for no other reason than the lack of the poor songwriting most other songs display and awkwardness of the twosome’s voices trying to coexist
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on Dawson; her shtick seems to be this quazi-quirky style and it has obviously given her a bit of success. This album is, after all, the sonic equivalent of watching every episode of New Girl back to back (16 songs?). Quirky for the sake of being quirky, the clashing, weirdly abrasive way they force bad harmonies on us, and lyrics that make absolutely no sense a lot of the time, hopefully this was Dawson and Aesop’s aim and not just horrible judgment in choosing a collaboration partner. Even if this is the case, something being done purposefully doesn’t excuse all the problems here. Both parties have their own niche and their own audience, but with Hokey Fright
they prove that these niches shouldn’t be forced together if it wasn’t meant to be.