Review Summary: Nathally, lithpy thethauruth / Hith rhymeth do nothing but bore uthThe Impossible Kid
felt like the end of an era for Aesop Rock. Sure, he threw just as much shi
t at the walls as he usually does — and it took some squinting to glean meaning from much of the resulting lyrical splatter — but the album was oddly direct and literal compared to Ian Bavitz's usually skewed approach. We had easily digestible accounts of human-on-rodent violence, details of a herbivorous feline's day-to-day, excerpts of intellectual jousts with a therapist, and an inventory of the mental baggage that accompanies living out your rock bottom with nothing but a jalopy for shelter. Forthright subject matter aside, what really separates The Impossible Kid
from Aes' oeuvre is that he confronted the very nature of his art from an angle he had only hinted at previously: does his audience really get off on bearing witness to his suffering, and will his art lose its edge if he attains some degree of normalcy or happiness?
Two years later, Aes dropped a loosie called “Klutz” that effectively built off the back of this framework. After taking the piss out of everyone and everything possible while painting himself as basically hopeless, a lover, a fighter, and a seed to blackened acres, he presents us with the most Aesop Rock of Aesop Rockisms: “Are you starting to feel part of the kinesis?”
The movement inferred by this question has now been thoroughly defined in the hour-plus excursion that is his latest solo release, Spirit World Field Guide
, and it's simultaneously filled with surprises and exactly what you'd expect.
An awkward intro track — initially designed as part of a last-ditch marketing push for the album release — reveals (and obscures) the album's core concepts, particularly an embracing of “unwavering otherness.” This is Aesop Rock's movement; a celebration of anti-social behaviour, an ode to isolation and paranoia, a monument to the unkempt and unwashed, a party for the chemically-inclined, and, most importantly, a home for some of the most unique lyricism in hip-hop. Witnessed with the right optical gear, these words also let the listener in on an Ian Bavitz that brings his own otherness in for a close hug, instead of opting for the customary verbal flagellation that usually accompanies his ruminations.
Huh? You wanna talk about the music? Those four sides of yours are sure looking equal right now. Don't even get me started on those right angles.
Okay then. Aes produced this thing all on his own again (minus one co-produced track in “Sleeper Car”), and the general vibe is hard drums and basslines. Additional instrumentation is sprinkled throughout in the form of various keys, guitars, and some predictably sweet sampling/scratching, but the priority is rhythm and bars. At large, it slaps like Kamotsky. Choruses, however, are often disappointing (“Pizza Alley”, “The Four Winds”), so you can be sure that you are listening to Aesop Rock, and not some talented musician trying to ape his rapping style.
Honestly, why would you be bothered about hooks if you could write and perform raps of this calibre anyway? Case in point, the four tracks that don't even breach one and a half minutes, let alone have hooks. “Dog At The Door” is a hilarious and engaging tale of hearing noises in the night and imagining the worst, with a deadpan delivery and even some oddly effective exaggerated onomatopoeia to boot. “Flies” is a track about exactly what its name implies (with a twist ending) and is the weakest of the shorties, “Side Quest” is like an alternate take on “Story 2”'s concept for cats that don't like violence, and “1 to 10” is another rib-tickler about experiencing back pain. Old rappers, man. What a world we live in.
Another cool set of sister tracks on the album are “Pizza Alley”, “Holy Waterfall”, and “Sleeper Car”, all of which are a sort of verbal scrapbook of trips Aes took to Peru, Cambodia, and Thailand respectively. They each do a great job of laying out images of his personal adventures while also referencing symbology and history of the respective locales. These songs feel like Aesop Rock writing solely for himself instead of an audience, and it's actually quite becoming of his style.
I wanted to include some choice bars in this review, but my shortlist was two pages long and growing by the minute. What this suggests about the quality of Aesop Rock's writing is unsurprising to any fan, and that's without bringing into account the array of vocal patterns he brings to the table. Truthfully, I'm still digging details out of the wider Aesopian corpus, and the scale of Spirit World Field Guide
has my testes retreating into my body at a momentum that belies a kind of Lovecraftian terror. Good news, though: the man himself has told us what the songs are about in an interview with Flood Magazine! So now we have a short-hand reference text to carry alongside this bulky Field Guide. Your satchel may tear at the seams if you carry all the course material through campus at once, so just ditch those textbooks. That chemistry degree you're only doing so that you can effectively synthesize LSD can wait.
And wait we must. As with most of his work, it takes some time for the words to settle into some kind of bigger picture. One message is reading loud and clear, though. The weight of fear, of guilt, of self-loathing that coloured Aesop Rock's music for so long has been lifted, and his creativity is once again unbridled.
I want a thousand lanterns drifting on a summer's wind
I'm only joking, y'all can feed me to the fucking pigs