None Shall Pass
"Citronella" is a good barometer for where Aesop Rock (née Ian Bavitz) is at right now in his life. The dude who once said, "If the revolution ain't gonna be televised/Then fuck, I'll probably miss it," now rails against the boob tube like an angry old man who misplaced his teeth. Makes sense—Aes recently got wifed up and (gasp) left his revered NYC for the detached chill of San Francisco.
None Shall Pass is almost the polar opposite of 2003's wrongly maligned, post-fame beast, Bazooka Tooth. Then, Aes was all hostile and hungry, blasting molar cannons at artillery fetishism, "post-Fabio world motherfucks," and drug-addled nostalgia. Now he's defanged, rapping about demented swashbuckler children's tales ("The Harbor Is Yours") and friends not letting friends get high ("Fumes").
The change is even more pronounced with Aes backing off the boards and allowing longtime collaborator Blockhead to produce most of the beats. What gave Bazooka Tooth so much bite was Aes's rickety Bomb Squad thump, the beats feeling like they could rupture egos and slam suicide doors in one fell boom. But über-fans cried foul, yearning for Blockhead's smoother touch—and they get plenty of it on None Shall Pass, from the retro bleeps and sped-up samples on the title track to the jazzy breeze of "Five Fingers." Without the rabid creativity-fueled anger of his recent works, it's almost easy listening.
The most interesting track is appropriately hidden: "Pigs" has Aes all riled up over handclaps and blues guitar, mixing his Labor Days criticism with Bazooka Tooth's bile, and for a minute there, we get the Aes of old: "clinically bonkers," hating "just about everyone God's great earth offers." —Gentry Boeckel
AESOP ROCK performs with Rob Sonic, DJ Big Wiz, the Octopus Project, and Blockhead with DJ Signify on SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, at FIRST AVENUE; 612.332.1775