Review Summary: Weren't you ever a kid, dude?
Fair warning: This review was originally going to be a reply to the other one, the one from May 1st that gave this album a 2 out of 5. I decided I had enough of a rebuttal to make a proper review out of it.
Up front, this album gets a half point from me for novelty alone. It sounds like nothing else I've heard this year or possibly ever. That said, there are dribs and drabs of that negative review that I don't dispute. I agree, for example, that Kimya Dawson can be a bit grating, a bit too earnest and twee, and her guitar work not terribly inventive. But it didn't take me too long to get used to her voice, and I can overlook the so-so guitar lines because there's enough diversity between songs in the instrumentals that they don't overwhelm it. Besides, I don't think the main draw here is supposed to be the singing or the guitar chops. Most of these songs seem to me to be about the lyrics, and there I think both participants do a bang-up job of choosing interesting and unconventional subjects and writing about them compellingly. And there are themes here that seem to me to justify even what seem like terrible decisions at first.
Aesop and Kimya bring two very different sensibilities to Hokey Fright
's table in a lot of different ways, and the words are the place those sensibilities complement each other best. Kimya's verses tend to be straightforward and often almost childish, and as a result they can serve as both unadorned emotional gut-punches (check her devastating four lines that open "Organs") and decoder rings that help bring out the meaning in Aesop Rock's typically dextrous and verbose verses.
As a result, I think this is the most I've ever enjoyed Aesop Rock on an album. His verses are not only not nonsensical, but most of them are the most obvious I've ever heard from him and I don't understand how anyone who's made a serious attempt at following them can claim otherwise. I'll go further and claim that some of them are among the most touching
verses I've ever heard from a rapper. Hell, "Jambi Cafe"'s verse practically gets me choked up just for the tenderness and compassion in its delivery, and I don't even like kids. And yes, I just said a rap verse was tender and compassionate. Did I mention that this album sounds like nothing else I've ever heard?
I'll cop to its other flaws. It's too long; "Tits Up" and "WYHUOM" are repetitive and wear out their welcome, especially coming as they do at the end; and some of the harmonizing does sound really awkward. But I sort of think awkwardness is what they were going for here. We're talking about an album with a rap verse about giving candy to a kid who wipes out on a skate ramp, for f*ck sake. It's an album with a song about how discovering sex as an adolescent is not awesome but confusing, terrifying and kind of gross. There's a song about how important it is to be an organ donor, which is practically a PSA except that it also has one of the best lines of the year in "Outside of the influential arms of your idolatries / The object will be turning goodbyes into good biology".
So we can complain about all the things in the last paragraph, and we can also complain that the melodies are sing-songy, perhaps, but let's also consider that half the characters they represent are kids. Look at this album as trying to be evocative of childhood or goofy adolescence and even "WYHUOM" is a rousing success. I'm not always in the mood for that kind of whimsy. Usually I want damn kids off my lawn as much as anyone else my age. But when I do want something that's equal parts silly and thoughtful and sometimes even mixes the two till they're indistinguishable: holy goddamn f*cking sh*t, Hokey Fright
is my jam.