Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Album Review: Aesop Rock - Float

Mush, 2000

In Rainman, Raymond Babbit (Dustin Hoffman's charachter) appears to count matches as they fall to the floor from an open packet. He knows how many have fallen. Whether or not Ian Bavitz (aka Aesop Rock) could repeat this feat is a subject for a different day, but one thing is for certain - he shares the ability to notice and record things on the most minute scale

He takes the tiniest elements that make up everyday life and converts them into metaphors referencing a huge variety of things. Noticable among the various images that he conjours are those refering to the mythology of children's stories. He talks of Kings and Queens, allegiances and evil baddies, and these images combine to remind me of the awe and fascination I used to feel listening to these types of stories as a child. Removed from the black and white morality of most children's stories however, he reappropriates the imagery to function as a vehicle to depart his own brand of wisdom

Using the context of a children's story allows Bavitz to appear as some kind of teacher, and the linguistic releationship between him and the listener does reflect that of teacher and child. His language is massively complex, with lots of information packed into each line that must be decoded by the listener in order to understand it and this neatly absorbs you, allowing you once again to feel that sense of fascination

The stand out vocal tracks on the album are (in no particular order) No Splash, Basic Cable, Prosperity, Attention Span, How To Be A Carpenter and The Mayor And The Crook (although the rest are hardly weak...), but the production on the album is also well worth a mention. Production duties were shared between Aesop Rock himself and Ninjatune's Blockhead (except for track 10):

1. Float (AR)
2. Commencement At The Obedience Academy (B)
3. Big Bang (AR)
4. Garbage (AR)
5. I'll Be OK (B)
6. Breakfast With Blockhead (B)
7. Basic Cable (B)
8. Fascination (AR)
9. Oxygen (B)
10. Skip Town (Omega One)
11. 6B Panorama (AR)
12. Lunch With Blockhead (B)
13. Spare A Match (B)
14. Attention Span (B)
15. How To Be A Carpenter AR)
16. Prosperity (AR)
17. No Splash (B)
18. Drawbridge (B)
19. Dinner With Blockhead (B)
20. The Mayor And The Crook (AR)

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner with Blockhead are all short instrumental tracks that stand out (particularly Breakfast and Dinner) as gems in their own right - the melody that ends Breakfast is especially wonderful. Other musically notable parts are the sad melody on No Splash, the plucked guitar on The Mayor And The Crook, Skip Town's general funkiness and the dramatic horns of Attention Span. However, the production never threatens to draw attention to itself too much and detract from the words at any point - a noble exercise in self-restraint that pays off, because ultimately, the album is about the words

Rather than describe it further, I think the best way forward is to let the album speak for itself. The following are a selection of lyrics taken from the album, transcribed to the best of my ability. I've taken the layout style from The Living Human Curiosity Slideshow, a book of his lyrics that was released with the first 20,000 copies of his Fast Cars, Knives, Fire and Danger EP, part of which can be read here

some parts of No Splash:
I got a little something called a spirit crisis on my skull and it's nothing short of ferocious, but I swallow the dosage, I got a mantle, on a mantle is a candle, on a candle is a flame that burns to symbolize the day Gretel met Hansel. Then I settle in a stand still, I live forever, reaching for the sun, hoping some lucky day I'll clutch and get a handful...

We all know what a halo is, but we all don't know the horrors if your halo tips, I be the matador making your pretty little heels click, i be the sword in the stone, the contemporary eclipse, I'm incredibly exhausted, you can't imagine, got my warm spirit stuck in my teeth, I'm obsolete...

Every little step she takes breaks the chambers in the chest, developed in the abominable trouble, settle for a cruel second...

You won't regret a single solitary step I promise, look, in a situation where a dragon guards the gate I make a true spur of the moment grown decision which in turn allows me to be something normal with the prefix of the abbot, I could kill every monster if I gotta, that's that...

really nice review. am i the only one who absolutely hates the direction that Aesop has been travelling in lately?
I'm a huge fan, but there seems to be a certain propensity amongst the Def Jux crown to veer between the incredible verbal flights of their peerless rhyming and their occasional tendency to overdo the misanthropy (and everynow and then, misogyny). That said, the last EP was pretty good I thought...
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