AESOP ROCK – INTEGRATED TECH SOLUTIONS
Occasionally it may take some years to figure out there are those who are much smarter than they are but for others, that realization may take nothing more than a few seconds. I represent that group that’s a part of the latter rather than the former. It comes as no surprise, as so many wordsmiths come prepared with notebooks filled with pages of ammunition they keep locked and loaded. We could go down a list of littérateurs but at the moment we’re only focusing on one.
While Aesop Rock has nothing left to prove with a catalog of solo material, collaborations, and film work, he continues to release material that already spans over 20 years. Aes returns with his first proper solo album in 3 years entitled Integrated Tech Solutions (Rhymesayers Entertainment), a recording mostly self-produced that sees a return to form. Return? In actuality, Aesop Rock’s music has never suffered from poor quality or bad songwriting. With ITS, his words are still confounding at times – a knack for wrapping clever wordplay he’s harnessed and perfected throughout the years. And here it’s not different within the conceptualization of this release.
Throughout the dense 18-track recording, Aes clearly developed a number of bangers where he ties together words and phrases unlike anyone else. One thing that shouldn’t be ignored is his storytelling capabilities which he augments through clever comparisons & metaphors. Who else would create a track called “Pigeonometry” navigating around those rats with wings, which he finds of interest through their geometric shapes, their movements, and “stigmas.” The comparison between pigeon and dove is negligible, which he also points out. All this on top of a lazy bass groove with a Middle Eastern-like guitar play at times. It’s about the bass, a sweet and gooey drip that we can all find solace within. All together it becomes a concoction that’s beautifully sluggish. With “Kyanite Toothpick,” this is where the initial deduction regarding many emcees comes in. Of course, we’ll find scribes claiming they understand the song title itself but I profess no such thing. Kyanite is a “silicate mineral that is formed during the regional metamorphism of clay-rich sediments.” You can make your own deductions on it but here his words swirl around a thick bass line with a thumping beat along with Hanni El Khatib focused on that hook. This comes as a bit of a surprise finding the garage rocker weaving his words together fitting extremely well here. Khatib isn’t a one-trick pony and we should all be grateful for that.
Aesop Rock is full of surprises and with “100 Feet Tall” his nostalgia is infectious. His storytelling ability may have no equal and here it includes his family and Mr. T in a chance encounter. This just might take you back to everything you’ve known about the former wrestler/actor with a penchant for shiny jewelry and probably one of the best at promoting himself. His words run laps around a punchy and fun rhythm that blends perfectly with Aes’ words. When he says, “Mr. T’s 100 feet tall/arms like crux probably punch through a wall/my father said his name and sort of nodded to acknowledge him/I would and turned to confirm this was not some sort of hologram…” he makes me believe, and as sure as shit, many will probably do the same. Discussing Integrated Tech Solutions, we can’t bypass “Mindful Solutionism” where his words are all over the place, with wild metaphoric references through the historical technological advances of man, and while these are mind-numbing, they come together over a beat filled with semblances of Boom Bap ghosts. THIS is what we just can’t get enough of!
There’s a wide array of tracks here, maybe too many to go through at one time, with an assortment of guest appearances. billy woods shares verses with Aes on the bouncy “Living Curfew,” which shifts gears a quarter of the way through while “Forward Compatibility” finds his Hail Mary Mallon cohort Rob Sonic biting down hard on his words. Yeah, both emcees provide fierce deliveries over the power of the beat provided. Lealani Teano’s vocals are unexpected but welcomed on “Bermuda.” It’s a strong and commanding hook, while on “Black Snow,” Nikki Jean coos around his rhymes, lifting this song to another place altogether. There’s no confusion throughout Integrated Tech Solutions, where Aesop Rock has created something that stands alongside some of his other classics. Yes, when it comes to Aesop Rock I can be completely biased but I dare anyone to fight me on this. I’ll be the one carrying a mouthguard in my pocket waiting for the naysayers. Here Aesop Rock has outdone himself.
PALM GHOSTS – I LOVE YOU, BURN IN HELL
I’m always reminded of the phrase “If we forget the past, we are doomed to repeat it,” not because it reverberates with fear and dread but because it’s sometimes welcoming. We question a number of things but why some dwell on the past usually isn’t one of them. Film and television have a love affair with the past, but so does music. Now while the Nashville by way of Philadelphia’s Palm Ghosts has gone through a variety of shifting membership – settling in with its multi-instrumentalist vocalist Joseph Lekkas, drummer Walt Epting, and guitarist/vocalist Benjamin Douglas – the band isn’t stuck in the past, it lingers throughout it, grasping at elements, blending it into the sound it creates. Its latest release, I Love You, Burn In Hell (Sweet Cheetah / Poptek / Sell The Heart Records/Engineer Records) marks the fruition of that combination.
Throughout the past decade, the band has honed its skill, combining a wide array of textures into post-punk riffing, wrapped around electronic tones. Through its seventh album, nothing has changed, save for its maturation. Through I Love You, Burn In Hell, the band moves in a number of ways, through songs working through the band’s strengths. But in all honesty, there’s nary a point of weakness. Beginning with keyboard washes, the gloomy “Tilt” moves with a goth-like intensity, and singer Joseph Lekkas’ voice is awash through an array of effects that leads the band through darkness. But there’s more than a glimmer of hope through “Drag,” the band’s direct approach, brightly lit with possibly its catchiest song yet. The track is sensational in its pop delivery with an infectious melody that’s sure to stop everyone in their tracks. Guitars wind around the track while the rhythm allows Lekkas and Douglas to run vocal melodies around it from beginning to end.
There are apparently a number of sexual connotations throughout the album but probably none more obvious than “She Came Playfully,” a forcefully driving number with a playful rhythm that stresses and storms around us. Lekkas’ words confuse at first, until I realized he sang “When she came playfully besides me” wasn’t “inside me.” Its bounciness is hypnotic and changes the outlook on the band itself. But it’s “Machine Language” that offers nostalgic goosebumps, as if it’s right out of the soundtrack for Out Of Bounds, you remember, that 1986 Michael Anthony Hall film? Anyone? Anyone? The song moves at a thrilling pace, with loads of kick and keys right across it. It’s easy to move around it. But those same feelings lie through “Catherine Shackles,” but I’ll spare you the film soundtrack it would be comfortable and fitting within. Musically it’s affectionate and unyielding while at the same time keeping its guard up.
Where does Palm Ghosts fall in the grand scheme of things? Well, considering its past few releases were strong, showing continual growth, the band I Love You, Burn In Hell finds the group at its peak.