Aesop Rock - None Shall Pass
The Def Jux imprint has been gaining more and more attention from the mainstream recently, with Aesop Rock lining up alongside the likes of LCD Soundsystem in having put together a 45-minute track designed to soundtrack the perfect workout for Nike. In addition, the label's co-founder and owner El-P, (who makes his mark with a couple of guest appearances on None Shall Pass) has crafted one of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop albums of the year in I'll Sleep When You're Dead.
In the midst of this whirlwind of new-found commercial interest in himself and his labelmates, we find Rock steadfastly maintaining the dense delivery that has become his trademark, dismissing out of hand any notion that he's in the process of taking tentative steps into the mainstream. It's a brave move - if I'd written this paragraph with nogapsbetweenthewordslikethis I wouldn't expect to be celebrated as a maverick genius, even if it was packed to the gills with witty social commentary and intricate puns crafted with infinite amounts of care and attention. This, Rock's fifth album proper, boasts a wealth of wonderfully clever wordplay just waiting to be discovered and fans will have a blast trying to wring every drip of meaning from the often incredibly ambiguous lyrics, but for many it's likely to prove far too much effort. If that includes you then perhaps it'd better to give up reading now, because at points it can feel like you're scrambling around for clues as to what's going on, maintaining the man's reputation as a difficult, challenging artist.
Some of the choicest cuts on the album are those boasting guest spots, with El-P shining on the dark fairytale 39 Thieves as he and Rock trade verses backed by subtly menacing beats. Cage and Breeze Brewin's contributions also impress, the pair adding their talents to Getaway Car, a bouncing Blockhead production, who makes his biggest contribution to an Aesop Rock album since 2001's Labor Days, generally regarded as the rapper's high watermark. The juddering juggernaut Coffee is another ace in the pack, although this time the supporting act only works to diminish the quality, with lo-fi alt.folk collective The Mountain Goats' vocalist John Darnielle's timid contributions reducing the impact of the delightful juxtaposition of Rock's antsy, hyper-kinetic delivery with sluggish, lethargic beats.
The production leaves something to be desired at points, with Keep Off The Lawn's stilted nu-metal riffs proving horribly distracting. Worse still, Catacomb Kids proves almost unbearably self-indulgent, recalling the last horrible dregs of G-funk. On tracks like Citronella and Five Fingers though, everything Rock has been working towards clicks into place perfectly, with the latter's martial drums and insane scratching courtesy of DJ Big Wiz particularly impressive. Elsewhere, lead single None Shall Pass is one of the LP's most accessible moments and another highlight, with distorted samples played off skilfully against taut, bubbling beats.
Although this is certainly not a record for everyone, None Shall Pass is a worthy purchase for those already enamoured with the artist and anyone contemplating dipping a toe into the deep end of alternative hip-hop.