Admittedly, after the group effort of Hail Mary Mallon, expectations were lowered for Aesop Rock’s most recent effort, Skelathon. Are You Gonna Eat That? had it’s moments, but none of them resonated like Aesop’s past work on Labor Days or None Shall Pass. While we knew Aesop had his moments as a producer, the last Felt album didn’t quite deliver what the Def Jux supergroup of Murs, Slug and Aesop Rock have ultimately proved themselves capable of. Skelethon, however, is Aesop’s best work in nearly five years and quite possibly his best solo effort ever.
Some fans might have had cause to worry, as Skelethon was produced entirely by Aesop, without the assist from longtime producers Blockhead and El-P. He’s been trying his hand at production for years and definitely has proven himself capable of solid work, but Blockhead had been there for the classic anthems like “Coffee” and “Daylight.” Among the best productions on the album are opening track “Leisureforce” and standout “Homemade Mummy”, both of which feature the warm guitar fuzz and buzz heard on None Shall Pass. “Homemade Mummy” is Aesop gone horrorcore-philosopher, as he focuses on following the heart, but does it in the grimmest manner possible. “Leaisureforce” could easily fit alongside any El-P production, if not for the occasional haunting background vocals. Aesop goes hard as he describes “smash cut to a smoke bombed quarantine”, something you might imagine had this track just been an instrumental.
“ZZZ Top” is another standout, almost sounding like a lost RJD2 track from 2004, featuring a crazy drum break with snaking slow guitar riff that twists throughout the track. With references from Afrika Bambata to Led Zeppelin, this song traces the discovery of the average listener, as they open up to new sounds. “Fryerstarter” is another standout track that utilizes the Kalimba. Much like “Blast It” by Shabazz Palaces, it really proves there’s no shortage of sounds that can work with a hip-hop album. Aes also gets on Action Bronson’s emerging trend of rapping about food, bringing the listener into his world, down to the scent and ingredients of one of his hangouts. Its the type of song that might not make for a standout single, but put together into a album can give you a good idea of Aesop and where his life is at.
The biggest miss on this album has got to be “Crows 1″. Kimya Dawson is the only featured guest on this album and she just doesn’t fit. She’s modestly entertaining live, but can’t seem to get through more than a line or two without taking deep breaths. Its incredibly distracting and her part on the song just doesn’t gel with the rest of the production. They’ve toured together in the past and this may have come out of that, but ultimately Aesop Rock might be a better feature for her album then the other way around.
What was supposed to be a really down album comes out hard, strong and sometimes even uplifting. You could never really pin Aesop Rock as fake – maybe obtuse – but the man is capable of describing where he’s at. In a hip-hop culture that’s usually aimed at masking failures, its rare to hear someone come out saying “I have been completely unable to maintain any semblance of a relationship on every level.” From someone who is usually so hidden with where he’s at, a statement like this hits hard. It comes at the end of the album on “Gopher Guts”, as Aesop lays himself out bare. That’s really all you can ask from any artist. To know their failures is to know they’re human, and to be able to identify with them says that none of us are alone.
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