Aesop Rock None Shall Pass(Definitive Jux) Buy it from Insound
Aesop Rock is still angry. Maybe not as in-your-face furious as on his last album, the absurdly bombastic Bazooka Tooth, but he's still far from pleased with the state of the world, spitting out his phrases with ever-so-slightly restrained venom.
Aesop is also still smart as fuck, probably smarter than you, and he's still very willing to show off this fact. Every track on None Shall Pass features the stunningly intricate web of associations, metaphors, images, and intricate wordplay that has become his trademark, and he shows no sign of slowing down. Ease of comprehension on the part of the listener is clearly not his goal here, and the album, like all of his, is better for it. That moment when, for the listener, the web of seemingly-disparate phrases that populate a song coalesce into a unified whole is endlessly thrilling. I feel like I've accomplished something.
So has anything changed from his previous albums to his newest? Sometime before the release of his newest album, Aesop Rock mentioned that he was interested in writing more story based songs, in the vein of No Regrets from his stunning Labor Days. There are certainly more story songs on his newest album, though none approach the simple lucidity of the wonderful No Regrets, which remains an anomaly in Aesop's career. Rather, the stories told on this release are draped in Aesop's trademark lyrical abstraction peppered with hints of surrealism and absurdity. There's a definite story of addiction, loss, and anger residing somewhere within the stew of images that make up Fumes, but the details of its plot are far from specific. In the end, the increased presence of stories barely registers as unusual, as covered in Aesop's standard techniques as it is.
The production, provided largely by Labor Days' Blockhead, with a few tunes handled by El-P or Aesop himself, straddles the divide between the laid-back classical samples that made up the bulk of Labor Days and the chopped up funk of Bazooka Tooth and the Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives EP, as well as throwing some live instrumentation into the mix, often provided by Aesop's wife Alyson. Often, uptempo drum tracks contrast with relaxed guitar lines, as in the title providing a interesting of aggression and restraint which mirrors Aesop's delivery throughout the album. While not as thrillingly original as the production on other indie hip-hop albums, it's just different enough from Aesop's other albums to provide a new nuance to his flow. The furious guitar and bass led stomp of Coffee sounds like nothing he's ever rapped over, and the introduction of nasally melodic vocals provided by John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, though initially jarring, is ultimately almost revelatory.
The album isn't without its faults - its probably too long, and though the production may differ from other albums, it blurs together somewhat over the course of the album. However, there's one song on this album that renders all such complaints irrelevant - the title track. None Shall Pass is undoubtedly one of the best things Aesop has ever done, ranking right up there with Labor Days' Daylight. Its gorgeously catchy bells and guitar led beat merges with some of the most subtle and enjoyable lyrics and delivery in Aesop's career. For this one undeniably fantastic track alone, None Shall Pass is worth a listen.27 October, 2007 - 18:09 — Jeff Rovinelli