Aesop Rock is a 44-year-old rapper from Long Island, New York. Known for his conceptual genius and top-tier lyricism, Rock has built one of the most prolific resumes hip hop has ever seen with classics like Labor Days and The Impossible Kid. This weekend, the lyrical mastermind has given us his first solo album in nearly four years titled Spirit World Field Guide. Describing the LP as a life-changing journey into a world like no other, will Aesop Rock be able to visualize this fantasy into his next masterpiece?
For all willing to enter this “otherwordly” dimension, you must understand every word Aesop Rock excretes is vital to the overall world-building experience. While he gives you a brief understanding of the fear-mongering hell hole he’s trapped inside of on the spoken intro, “Hello from the Spirit World”, the rest of the project must be navigated by deciphering subtle hints and references. Through 20 tracks, the story of how the 44-year-old became stuck in this hopeless ghost town gets slowly pieced together. From his unexpected entrance on “The Gates” to fighting against the demonic forces of evil on “Fixed and Dilated”, this is truly one of the most conceptually focused albums I’ve heard in ages. While these crucial climaxes determine our protagonist’s fate, the moments building between them are nearly just as important. Cuts like “Sleepy Car”, “1 to 10”, and “Salt” perfectly exemplify this as they capture the internal struggles of man. Whether it’s something as simple as being homesick or as severe as losing your will to live, these challenges are not just understandable but also relatable. The component of symbolism furthers ideas like these and others as Rock’s ability to take a simple phrase or action and turn it into a rich analogy is unmatched. The peak of this is on “Button Masher” as Aesop describes the various attempts at keeping his sanity to aimlessly clicking buttons on a video game controller. Despite their musical greatness, songs like “Pizza Alley” and “Side Quest” should have been left off as their disjointed subject matter steers away from the groundbreaking story being painted. “Flies” also falls into this category, but for its meaningless tale that wastes 46 seconds. Fortunately, moments like these are drowned out by the intricacies in cuts like the distressed “Dog At The Door” and persevering “Marble Cake”. Out of all these narrative binding episodes, “Crystal Sword”s breakdown of Aesop’s detailed journal offers some of the best information and explanations on the world we are trying so hard to understand. Additionally, “Boot Soup”, and “Jumping Coffin” are not too far off with their spine chilling stories of Rock’s place between the worlds living and dead specimens. Wrapped up by the sickeningly optimistic “The Four Winds”, our torn apart and traumatized narrator somehow manages to keep his head up and look forward to the future. Between the fantastic songwriting, depth, and story being told by Aesop Rock, Spirit World Field Guide becomes one of the most ambitious rap records imaginable.
Entirely handled by Aesop himself, he near-perfectly accompanies his brilliant ideas with a compelling soundtrack. Just like his lyrics, most of the instrumentals thrive from eerie uncertainty. Expanding on this, there’s also a clear intention to make everything feel like a glitchy speed run with the distorted 8-bit melody lines on “The Gates” and “Attaboy”. This sense of urgency doesn’t limit the sonic boundaries as we see everything from crunk underlines on “Holy Waterfall” to vibrant blue’s rhythms on “Dog At The Door” being thrown into this stylistic melting pot. “Salt” was a definite standout as everything from the Beastie Boy’s sample to the howling bridge is musical perfection. Feeding into the record’s atmosphere, instrumental intros on “Sleepy Car” and “Pizza Alley” add to the craze with their dramatic crescendos. “Kodokushi” is a true testament to Rock’s abilities as he fuses an electric guitar with some exploding synths for a radiating experience. Topping off its beauty, the production’s thriving factor is that every single song manages to stand out and feel immersive while also staying ideologically bound together. Overall, Aesop Rock’s sharp skills as a beat-maker culminate into a masterfully planned sonic explosion.
Walking away from Spirit World Field Guide, we now have another strong album of the year contender. Aesop Rock’s performance is honestly mind-boggling to watch unfold as his goated lyrical ability is matched by his own fingers behind the boards. With the LP’s only issue stemming from being slightly bloated, it’s safe to say this is one of Rock’s finest offerings yet. Even though the 44-year-old has nothing to prove when it comes to his hall of fame status, I’m sure Aesop Rock will continue to properly expand upon his catalog as time goes on.
- Unique well-executed concept
- Top tier songwriting/lyricism
- Stellar production
- Challenges listeners to think/analyze
- Rock’s second-best showing as a producer to date (behind Impossible Kid)
- Subject matter on some songs steers away from core ideas
- Some filler tracks
Written by: Marc Dator
Scored and edited by: Marc Dator founder and owner of Fantastic Hip Hop