Musical soulmates Aesop Rock and producer Blockhead have a long-standing symbiotic relationship dating back to 2000’s Float album, which has naturally gained cult underground status, as is the standard for artists of their grizzled ilk. Operating with an instinctive understanding of how to play off each other’s dynamic and occupy the spaces left by their counterpart, the two have cranked out some milestones and some era-definers in the years that followed, including Aesop albums Labor Days and None Shall Pass. Left to stagnate for the past 14 years, this legendary partnership has triumphantly returned with a new album, Garbology, on Rhymesayers Entertainment, and it unceremoniously sets standards without missing a step or an opportunity to get weird.
Lighter on the drums than usual, Blockhead’s beats are slumpy, innately headbop-heavy creepers which combine symphonic and reflective elements to chin-stroking effect. Yearning, muted chords serve as an undercurrent, aiding the lyrics on their perpetual inward gravitation, stopping them just before they reach the rapids of self-indulgence. If Aesop’s last album, Spirit World Field Guide, was a tour through the ethereal realm, Garbology takes excerpts directly from the notebook of the owner. Some fans had gripes with the vocal mixing on SWFG, but every part of Garbology is crisp and organic, sounding like it was done in one transcendental take. Done with the spirit world, the focus is now on the filth between the pavement cracks and the waste we leave behind, which encourages deeper examination and internalization of our surroundings. At this point I must stress that neither Aesop Rock, Blockhead or any affiliated partners endorse rummaging through bins as part of a social experiment.
Starting with the audacious pump-fake of “Jazz Hands”, Aesop Rock ramble raps over a sweeping score bereft of drums, which only turn up when Aesop has finished his protracted study of the natural process of varying thought patterns. Happily, the drums come out of hiding on “Wolf Piss”, which sounds like something Charlie Sheen would drink on the advice of his faith healer. Images and references are flung at us in every densely packed line, ensuring many attentive replays from red-eyed music enthusiasts with scraggly beards.
“Tune in to my blue phase
October, I'm in bloom
When that cold snap and that wind croon
Trail mix in my road pack
And no roads back to this igloo
Stick and move around dead light, he ain't talk much
Step aside for my left-right, I'm like on one
Never mind when these dogs mush”
“Legerdemain” is nostalgic of the work Aesop and Blockhead did on Float 21 years ago, but with the artistic evolution such a stretch of time would imply. Long term fans will definitely appreciate the nod to the past with a resolute stance in the desolate present, linking with the recurring theme of the album. Often, the listener is simply asked to play the part of the pocket tape recorder, granted exclusive access to Aesop’s inner monologue. “All The Smartest People” drags us into the dirge with a sombre double bass line and distant trumpets, while Aesop is in prime storytelling mode, stringing us along with every finely rendered detail.
“Look, I'm cursed
Ran down Main like a man on fire from a church
Mangiest scalp in the state, angriest eyes in the world
Son pipes up, "Tell me, old man, how is that you could even know that?
It's not even a thing that scientists knows how to measure"
Gramps like, "Sonny, I been all over this motherfuckin’ road map
I can tеll you science ain't the only playеr in the network"
Y'all shoulda seen the boy face
Nothing like a smug young punk realising what his counterpoint ain't
All the smartest people that I know seem to teeter in a paranoid state”
Recalling “Howl” by William Burroughs in the last line was an undoubtedly intentional literary choice from the owner of the Largest Vocabulary In Hip-Hop (2014), and he’s just getting warmed up. “More Cycles” ups the intensity with an eerie, stuttering beat which Aesop duly decimates. His flows are cohesive, his rhyme patterns ridiculous and his claim of “Playing chicken with the will of God” should be given the respect it deserves. The album’s only feature comes from the always-incredible Homeboy Sandman, on the track “All Day Breakfast”. Blockhead cooks up a psychedelic seventies stew for the occasion and Sandman is in typically louche form, delivering witticisms in a disarmingly conversational manner.
“I just rode in town a couple hours ago
Not too many and already, I done found the glow
Swam the fountain, climbed the holy mountain, spent the pot of gold
And would have kept it low-key, but the homie asked me, “How'd it go?””
The album closer, “Abandoned Malls”, is a crushing exploration into the disconnected nature of the modern urban sprawl and the endless search for meaning within it. Every line resonates powerfully with anyone who feels an inexplicable sense of emptiness, so everyone. The beat is classic cinematic Blockhead, the type of which can be found on his instrumental albums, pulling the listener further into the experience. A wedge of Aesop’s appeal comes from his ability to elucidate the sense of being cut off from society and free us from the negative connotations, his music providing the catharsis and insight that just could not be obtained through a wellness app.
Garbology could well be the most accomplished artistic feat Aesop Rock and Blockhead have ever pulled off, but only historical context can confirm that. For now, we have a completely immersive, isolated experience which captures the zeitgeist with jaw-dropping, highly articulate precision. This is the type of album which can be enjoyed asleep in an armchair, embarking on a Situationist walks through unknown terrain while speaking to invisible people or forming an unlikely alliance with an otherwise stranger. These are mere serving suggestions, as the beauty of Aesop’s music is that much of it is open to interpretation. Don’t expect this pair to do the heavy lifting for you.
Buy Garbology here.