Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass

Def Jux – Rating: 7.6

With None Shall Pass, Aesop Rock continues on the road he’s been charging down since 1999’s Float. He’s still playing with the standard conventions of hip-hop, taking the usual and dialing it a deep into the weird.

From the Maurice Sendak meets Banksy vibe of the title track’s video to the album’s production this release is filled with strange touches. Even on the friendliest moments of None Shall Pass, you’ll find a hint of warble to an otherwise regular loop or a drop of spook via some darkened keyboard tone. Almost every track is slinky and mysterious, mashing sloppy funk with moody keyboards. This release differs from older work slightly, as it favors a more live sounding instrumentation on many of the tracks. Tracks like “Keep Off The Lawn,” takes a head-nodding stomp and pairs it with fuzzed out bass squiggles as Aesop’s backing.

He’s gifted in spinning narratives that wander down crooked roads, dipping so quickly in and out of dark corners it’s hard to truly absorb what he’s getting at beyond a confused guess. As with every other Aesop Rock album, there’s always a standout few tracks that will lure you in with their overt lyrical genius or an intriguing hook, but it takes multiple passes to really appreciate what’s going on. You can always get the feeling of what he’s saying, you can get a feel for the theme, but the specifics are hard to grasp. The track “39 Theives” features an analogy that relates the world to the font Helvetica then follows in the same breath mentions a big green monster and a teleprompter. Not much insight there, but Even trying to sit down with a printed copy of the lyrics won’t yield much insight, but it doesn’t.

Many times during the course of None Shall Pass, just when I found myself getting comfortable with the current barrage of words and strange, the song would subsequently end. Aesop seems to know the precise moment at which a human might acclimate to the new surroundings and promptly yanks the carpet out and replaces it with a darker, stranger one. Even the final track ‘Coffee’, which features a cameo by The Mountain Goats’s John Darnielle plays with structure in a nearly frustrating way. The clean hip-hop stomp of the drums pairs with the fuzz bass gives the feeling of a live track. Tempo shifts propel the track forward, lurching endlessly through Aesop’s equally rapid fire lyrics. Darnielle spends much of time hiding behind the track’s lean swagger, singing from far back in the mix. Only in the final moments of the song does he emerge to sing a verse about paranoia. It feels like he could continue and the song become a different beast, instead it suddenly ends. With moments like this, the album does it’s best to consciously subvert the expectations of the listener.

The darkness that hangs over None Shall Pass that will keep it from being a mainstream breakout. If you’re already a fan, you’ll find a good tweak on the existing Aesop formula and those with an adventurous ear hip-hop will be rewarded with an album that gives more with each listen.

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