Here were all these weekend mountaineers, solid nine-to-five types with a yen to cut loose, bugging off for distant campsites with cars full of hot dogs and charcoal and badminton rackets… and all of them wondering if they would get through the weekend without being traumatized or chain-whipped. -Hunter S. Thompson “Hell’s Angels”
The notion of an Aesop Rock “summer album” cracks me up. It’s like Clark Griswold setting out for Wally World and ending up at Camp Crystal Lake. That’s not to say that the man’s work rests solely on shock value – behind the Technicolor curtain of free-associative fabling and bust-your-shit production lie poetics enough to resurrect Sylvia Plath. Once, when asked about the production on the Beasties Boys’ second album, Eric B was quoted as saying he could have gotten 15 LPs off Paul’s Boutique – listening to Skelethon, it’s hard not to feel the same way about Aesop Rock’s writing. The last 60 seconds of “Cycles to Gehenna” make me want to kill myself and come back as a lady’s bike seat.
Speaking of resurrections, it’s been five years since None Shall Pass, during which (it should be fairly noted) the kid wasn’t just basking in the Bay Area breeze. Aes-Rock produced the entire third Felt record, dropped the Hail Mary Mallon LP with Rob Sonic, and joined forces with indie mainstay Rhymesayers. One must also acknowledge that the sheer density of Mr. Bavitz’ work doesn’t lend itself to quick manipulation; it’s a slow-cooked marinade and the result, in this case, is a fierce back-strap representative of a man who’s trudged through the muck (depression, self-loathing, the death of friend and co-conspirator Camu Tao) and come out the other side with kamikaze focus. Skelethon may be Aesop Rock’s most straight forward, honest record to date, and, in this regard, it may also be his best.
First single “Zero Dark Thirty” and lead track “Leisureforce” both build on the more sample-based production and linear flow showcased on the “None Shall Pass” single. Bass favorably anchors the album, but all totaled the beats are less cacophonic than the fabric of say Bazooka Tooth, and more conducive to concepts, even humor. “Fryerstarter,” a certified knocker, is ostensibly about doughnuts. “Grace” is based on Aesop’s hatred of green vegetables. “Racing Stripes” recounts self-imposed butt haircuts, and “Gopher Guts” is the all-out confessional of an egocentric ostrich finally grown up enough raise his own head. But it’s “Ruby ’81,” the beat-free tale of a beagle saving a two-year-old girl from drowning on the 4th of July, that brings goose bumps to the surface and solidifies the story-telling prowess Aesop hinted at on past jams like “No Regrets” and “11:35.”
Unlike most LPs, modern or otherwise, Skelethon isn’t front-loaded. You could argue it gets harder as it progresses, so let those little ADD punks swallow their compunction for an hour and digest what it means to be hip-hop. By the end of such a rich record, it’s hard not to feel happy for Aesop. He’s found ways to make complexity entertaining and to harness pain in the names of maturity and laughter. So get in line, smile, and be glad for your chain-whipping.
– Jeff Artist