In love with disreputable music
By Geoffrey Himes
Friday, August 3, 2012
“ZZZ Top,” the second single from Aesop Rock’s new album, “Skelethon,” captures that moment when a middle-schooler falls in love with disreputable music and detaches from conventional society. In the first verse, it’s a rock-and-roll kid carving Led Zeppelin’s “Zoso” symbol into a school desk. In the second, it’s a hip-hop kid inking Afrika Bambaataa’s “Zulu” onto his martial-arts chucks and, in the third, a punk-rock kid scrawling his favorite band’s name, “Zeros,” on a bathroom stall.
On his first solo album in five years, Aesop Rock (a.k.a. Ian Bavitz) evokes the exhilaration and misery of adolescence in various scenarios. Though the minimalist backing tracks (constructed from trashy drum loops, synth bass, sci-fi keyboards and distorted guitar) are closest to hip-hop, there’s a punk attitude in the way he refuses to romanticize himself or his pals. The Led Zep kid may be proud of his cannabis tattoo, but the narrator points out that, technically, it’s terrible.
Aesop Rock isn’t dissing these kids. He’s celebrating their first awkward steps toward individuality, doing it with a kind of realistic detail that’s rare in any form of pop music. It’s sometimes hard to link those details in his dense sentence fragments, but the connections are there to be made. Except for a chorus sung by folk-punker Kimya Dawson, there are no guest vocals here, just Aesop Rock spitting puns, insults and pop-culture allusions over pared-down rhythm tracks.