album reviews

Aesop Rock
None Shall Pass
Definitive Jux (2007)
Uncle Tony's Coloring Book
Ninja Tune (2007)

Describing Aesop Rock as hip-hop for indie rockers sounds so derogatory, as if to say that the hipsters who frequent the Black Cat require their own special version of the genre. But Aesop falls outside the mainstream more because of his lyrics and delivery than because of anything else. The metaphors and words he propels are more similar to underground rock lyrics than to radio-ready bling-and-broad raps. Even still, on his CD "None Shall Pass," a song ostensibly about Pluto's fall from planethood ("Bring Back Pluto") is more a showcase for his swirling stream-of-consciousness than a geeky tribute to astronomy.

His ever-shifting intonation commands attention, from his growling delivery of the title track's chorus to the conversational patter of "Catacomb Kids," all meshed with keyboard melodies, vinyl scratching and beats provided by the ever-present Blockhead as well as Aesop himself. "Pass" does have one very typically indie-rock moment; the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle joins in on the album-closing "Coffee." It's an odd pairing on the surface, but Darnielle's shrill howl so manifests the anguish that Aesop exudes elsewhere that nothing feels more fitting than the chilling echoes of his closing line, "This is what they make you take the medication for."

In addition to his work with Aesop, Blockhead has released his own collection of dance numbers. Samples, scratches and speedy beats permeate "Uncle Tony's Coloring Book." Although many instrumentals tend to blur together, the haunting female voice on "Put Down Your Dream Journal And Dance" makes that track one of the album's standouts.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 7 September 2007, Page WE09
.: Items mentioned above on None Shall Pass (Aesop Rock, 2007); Uncle Tony's Coloring Book (Blockhead, 2007).