Review Summary: More of a software update than a new operating system
On “One Brick”, an oft-overlooked track from his 2001 breakthrough Labor Days
, a young Ian Bavitz nonchalantly dropped a bar about beating a man to death with Aesop Rock bootleg CDs. Two decades later, you probably could
beat someone to death with Aesop Rock CDs – but it would be much easier to just bury them alive under a mountain of compact discs, so prolific has the underground darling become in the latter stages of his career. In the last five years alone, Bavitz has dropped four full length albums as an emcee - that’s not counting any soundtrack or production work. All the more impressive when one considers that, once upon a time, it wasn’t unheard of for fans to wait four or five years between
Aesop Rock releases.
Given his increasingly dense release schedule, then, it stands to reason that the sonic leaps between projects have gotten somewhat smaller. Having pretty much perfected a lyrical voice and cadence all his own on Labor Days
, subsequent Aesop Rock releases, starting with 2003’s mercurial Bazooka Tooth
, have more or less traced a similar arc with varying results: experiments in developing a production style as singular as his voice; and refining his lyrical approach to better accomodate relatability and storytelling over incendiary vocabulary bombs.
Sonically, 2023’s Integrated Tech Solutions
picks up right where Bavitz’ last solo effort, 2021’s Spirit World Field Guide
left off. After suffering through a pseudo-conceptual spoken word intro track (it’s arguable whether the conceptual elements of either album ever really permeated far enough to justify their inclusion), listeners are greeted with all the aural signatures of a post-2010 Aesop Rock album: booming bass, lurching beats, 8-bit video game inspired synths, and a smattering of indie rock guitar for good measure. Though similar in sentiment to past production jobs, there’s a slight sense of focus and refinement here compared to other projects that has been missing since 2016’s mid-career crowd-pleaser The Impossible Kid
. All of this culminates in the impression that, as far as production goes, Integrated Tech Solutions
is probably as close to the sound he’s always wanted as he’s yet gotten.
And lyrically? Integrated Tech Solutions
also continues the trend towards a more refined approach to his verse, using narrative and humour to both deconstruct and expand on Aesop Rock’s self-made mythos (sometimes both within the same track). Standout “Aggressive Steven” sports a humorous, heartfelt tale that starts and turns over a slick beat change; “Vititus” a similarly affecting rumination on family and the passage of time. “Pigeonometry” is a biting meditation on creativity, while the unexpectedly candid “On Failure” reads more like an overheard conversation had with oneself than a hip-hop track.
Integrated Tech Solutions
also has Aes helped along by a record number of collaborations and features - kindred soul billy woods lets the bars rip on “Living Curfew”; repeat offender Hanni El Khatib delivers a hook on “Kyanite Toothpick”, and the erstwhile Rob Sonic drops by for a Hail Mary Mallon reunion on “Forward Compatibility Engine”. The presence of Lealani and Nikki Jean on “Bermuda” and “Black Snow”, respectively, also could not be more welcome – both as much-needed substitutes to cover Aesop’s one remaining raw spot (the delivery of a decent hook), and as a reprieve from just how overbearingly masculine
an affair an Aesop Rock album usually is.
So where does that leave Integrated Tech Solutions
? At this stage of his career, Aesop Rock is chasing refinement more than rebrand. The fact that this sound has settled into a firm sense of familiarity means it may not ever be viewed with the essential status of Labor Days
or The Impossible Kid
, but Integrated Tech Solutions
provides enough fan service and tweaks to the formula to keep die hards happy.
Think of it as more of a software update than a new operating system.