The Spirit World Aesop’s talking about has a lot of similarities to our own, especially in its current state. It’s a map to an upside-down world drawn up by someone who realizes that it’s been upside down for so long that everyone else had just gotten used to it. The free-floating anxiety, the looming existential dread, the paranoia and suspicion that define our moment? That’s familiar turf for Aesop Rock. Dude owns property there.
It’s not just the lyrics, either. Aesop’s been on a creative tear lately that’s brought his production skills to new sonic terrain. Last year he and Black Moth Super Rainbow mastermind Tobacco released a full-length collaboration under the name Malibu Ken that raised the bar on hip-hop synthesizer psychedelia to dizzying new heights. Just this year alone he’s released the tightly wound standalone single “Rogue Wave” and Freedom Finger (Music From The Game), a 10-song EP recorded to accompany his friend, artist Travis Millard’s new video game.
Aesop’s not just exploring new sounds, he’s also making more expressive music. The feeling of being a stranger in a strange land permeates the album down to its sonic foundation. The beats are aggressive but appropriately haunted, with a touch of the otherworldly like you’re suddenly able to tune into what they’re listening to on the other side. This is seance radio, doomsday funk, high-anxiety head-nod shit. This is a master craftsman hitting a wild new stride.
What you do with everything that he’s putting down here is up to you. And that’s sort of the whole point. The path through the Spirit World is the path to freedom, and Aesop Rock will show you the way, but he won’t hold your hand. He can’t. We all have to take this journey ourselves. There aren’t any shortcuts, but if you keep your ears open you might find a way around the worst of it, and company who can make the trip less scary.