After listening to Skelethon it’s easy to understand why Aesop Rock is a one-time Def Jux resident. This album could easily nestle in alongside some of the best output of any Jukies. There’s not much higher accolade I could bestow upon an album. Anybody that knows me will know that I am totally enamoured with El-P and his label.
It’s testament to the production skills of Aesop Rock that Skelethon could so easily be assimilated into the halls of El-P. It’s not quite the same ground breaking being forged by El Producto but it’s almost like Aesop Rock has looked at the various stages of El-P’s development, as a producer, and learned from all of them.
It would be unfair to say that Aesop Rock is just a plagiarist. He’s not as obsessed with the whole album coming from the same musical template as some of his influences. Musically, Skelethon is drawn from a wide range of influences. There’s enough here to keep hip hop heads happy and please all the pitchfork readers too (if they can stop shouting that Odd Future are the best thing ever to happen to hip hop long enough to listen to this album).
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not sneering about the fact that this album might appeal to the hipster crowd. I certainly don’t think that Aesop Rock has tried to make a populist album. I think it’s just that this album is musically excellent and that a wider range of people will be able to pick it up and enjoy it.
Tonally this album is forged from an unhappy mind. It’s angry, anxious, belligerent and outraged by what it sees when it casts it’s eyes over the landscape. It borrows as much from rock as it does from Vangelis and melts it all down into a pleasing paste (with crunchy bits). Opening track “Leisureforce” could easily be lurking in the background of any El-P album. It’s all choppy drums, sci-fi synths, distorted guitar, melancholic vocal texture and dissatisfaction. “Fryerstarter” sounds like it was sampled from the breakdown in Harold Faltemeyer’s “Axel F”. You know, the bit that goes all vibraphone crazy. No bad thing, it’s just that I always end up trying not to think of that fucking frog.
“Crows 1” is like an urgent, nightmarish nursery rhyme. It opens with a child’s voice chanting “Birds of a black, black, feather stick together for ever and ever and the always remember you and all of the shit you do they pass it to their baby birdies and then they remember too”. As you might imagine it’s a song about karma…that’s what I’m imagining too although it’s hard to confirm or deny.
“Crows 2”, which follows “Crows 1” opens not with a child but with a rapped warning to “watch your step, watch your mouth, we all know the way that a punk goes out”. It’s an interesting contrast to “Crows 1”. Is Aesop Rock telling us that hip hip can be a cautionary tale in the same way that a nursery rhyme is?
Lyrically, Aesop Rock is as complex as ever on Skelethon. At times his unique style of delivery obscures the understanding of what he’s saying. He is, indeed, hard to read, like grafitti. Which is not that helpful when he imbues his raps with metaphors so dense that it’s a wonder they don’t collapse under the pull of their own gravity.
I’ll need far longer than the week I’ve been listening to this album to unpick the meaning of what Aesop Rock is talking about. He’s clearly a gifted MC but his technique is so dextrous that it’s hard for us mere mortals to keep up with the meaning. A double edged sword for somebody who is attempting to use his artform to communicate his thoughts. It’s hard to precisely dissect what he is attempting to say because these symbols mean something to him but not necessarrily to the listener.
Don’t be dismayed though the symbolism is often wonderfully macabre (“4 and 20 gory pantone black crows shedding innards. The silhouettes are fencing lefty scissors, separating horn and hoof as own arpeggiators”) even if not instantly understandable. I’m guessing that people who have majored in Poetry or English Literature would have a field day picking these lyrics apart. Even with the obscured meaning this is an album that will openly welcome you to enjoy the beats while it perplexes you with it’s linguistic trickery. I’ve been listening to it at least twice a day for a week now and that will probably continue for some time to come.