Aesop Rock – Skelethon
There are two ways you can listen to Aesop Rock’s sixth studio album Skelethon. The first way, arguably the most common method of digesting music in 2012 is the less engaged, multi-tasking way. This entails listening while scrolling through your Twitter, texting someone, and doing basically anything other than paying close attention to the music. The second is intense, and purposeful listening, doing absolutely nothing besides absorbing the album itself from front to back.
On the first handful of listens I fell in the first category, listening through one ear bud at work or while browsing the Internet. On a surface level listen a few things are immediately evident. Production for Skelethon was handled entirely by Aesop for the first time in his career. Typically enlisting help from long time producers like Blockhead, Aesop has been able to piece together a cohesive body of beats with a variety of producers. Skelethon is different. His production quality has increased significantly, treading with the sounds of dusty boom-bap drums with a weird twist of pitched and chopped vocal samples.
Skelethon also might be the most sonically accessible album to date. Lead single “Zero Dark Thirty” channels the previous appeal of “None Shall Pass”. But, it’s given a 2012 facelift, which deserves all the attention it can get. The record clocks in at 55 minutes, down from the close to 70 that previous records have reached, so it hardly gets stale or drags. Aesop has honed in his production and album construction to create the most listenable album of his career with only the help of a single guest feature, provided by Kimya Dawson’s beautifully unsettling vocals on “Crows 1”.
Those however, are just the initial impressions. It’s now 2 A.M. and I’m on bus somewhere east of Pittsburg with nothing to do but sit and attempt to dissect the lyrical behemoth that is Skelethon. The word “dense” doesn’t even come close to describing how lyrically challenging his record is. By the time you pick up on a line, understand it, and appreciate it, three more have already whizzed by you in a flurry of his double time nasal-y flow. Its mind bending free association mixed with elevated vocabulary is what separate this album completely from anything else remotely like it released this year.
Regardless of what you actually take from Skelethon, chances are it hit you damn hard. Maybe “the collective moment of fuck fame shit” from the sea lions in “1,000 O’Clock” hits the hardest. Maybe it’s the playfulness of a little kid afraid of his vegetables who is “staring at his green beans being a total pussy,” on the playful “Grace” that was most relatable. Perhaps the most intense storytelling of Aesop’s career “Ruby ‘81” (Yes, even more intense than “No Regrets”) will leave the most lasting impression. You can dig for personal meaning for countless listens, but that’s part of what makes Skelethon such an incredible record.
On the surface Aesop Rock has crafted something uniquely approachable and listenable with Skelethon, while at the same time being so personal and multi-layered that it only gets better with successive listens. The sixth listen will leave a different impact than the first, which is totally different from the tenth, fifteenth, or twentieth. Plug in, turn up, and zone all the way out to Skelethon, it’s Aesop at his sharpest and most refined, crafting what might be the best album of his entire career.