Monday, December 26, 2016

Best Albums of 2016 - Number 2

The Impossible Kid

I've said before I don't often listen to hip hop, so it should be understood what a big deal it is that my number two album of the year is Aesop Rock's Impossible Kid. There are so many levels to what Aesop does in all his work, but on this album more than ever, I think. I'm positive that even with the many times I've heard it, I'm still only getting a fraction of it all. It's the first time in probably like 20 years that I've actually heard a whole album, all the way through, while reading the lyrics. That's the kind of attention this deserves.

He's known for using complex imagery and "big words" (whatever that means), but it's always all in service of some of the most personal shit out there in any genre. Aesop's stories are funny, relatable, sad, inspiring, trippy and just plain well told. The autobiographical (a word that loses meaning when all the tracks can be described this way) "Rings" tells the story of how he spent a long time trying to make a living as a graphic artist, but felt drained, boxed in and like a failure. "Used to draw, hard to admit that I used to draw" delivered in Aesop's style gives that "used to" so much impact. It's common man angst that I can completely relate to. I used to do a lot of things, too. And then the hook and line that has resonated with me so much this year "they will chop you down just to count your rings." Fuck. That's the type of all caps TRUTH in a metaphor that it's hard to believe nobody ever came up with it before. He tells a specifically personal story, filled with vivid details, to arrive at a universal truth worthy of philosophers. There almost doesn't even need to be a whole album for this to be on my list.

Continuing, in a sense, on the theme of regretting perceived past failure as a middle aged human, or just flat out feeling old, "Lotta Years" is also really funny. Like Aesop, I see younger kids today as doing better than we did, not worse. If I'm understanding him, if I'm not missing the irony completely, he's kinda going against the typical "kids today" type of shit old people spew and accepting that he just doesn't get it, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Still, the stories, which are based on two real conversations, are delivered with biting satire and exaggeration.  "Look at that neck! The message is immediate, this guy F's chics!" about a kid with a liptsitck tattoo on his neck, makes me laugh every time I hear this song. The line is great, but the delivery is even better. The way the music sort of shifts and stops before he goes to the punchline reaction is comedy gold without getting cheesy. Brilliant.

The album isn't without some dark corners. There are several mentions of Aesop's therapy sessions. "Shrunk" is all about one such session. "Hey Kirby" is about his cat, which the song reveals his therapist told him to get. "Get Out of the Car" is about paralysis during hard times, specifically about a friend of his that died. And "Lazy Eye" is about not being healthy, not fitting in and being exposed and taken advantage of as a result before coming to terms with yourself, flaws and all. "Maybe I should kinda sorta move to Mars. I'm feeling kinda done, too many moving parts. The piss-poor vision is 40 percent floaters, the kitchen is a chorus of glorious leftovers. The friends you confessed all the dark shit to had weaponized the information before we could send roses." I don't know about you, but I've been there.

To top it all off, the beats on this album are excellent. Synths and guitars come together nicely, pulsing like a sci-fi soundtrack. Pay attention to the lyrics first, but then, check out the instrumental version of the album, too. It may even be a good soundtrack for heist film. I'll continue to beat myself up for missing his show when he was in town this year. Hopefully I can make up for it at some point in the near future.

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