Aesop Rock’s artistic expression is patently trademark. His extensive vocabulary is well-documented, but seven studio LPs have allowed him to extrapolate creatively. A serious foray into producing began on Bazooka Tooth (2003), and he later provided all the beats for Murs & Slug’s Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez (2009), and Skelethon (2012), his most recent studio LP. Now, he’s back with The Impossible Kid. Save for two bonus tracks, there are no guest features, which means Aesop goes it completely alone.
Despite a number of fun collaborations in the past– not to mention an intensive creative history with a talented producer like Blockhead– Aesop takes full creative control here. Expectedly, he doesn’t disappoint, but he also does little to break the mold that, for better or worse, shaped him as an artist.
Right out of the gate, “Mystery Fish” sets the tone with a banging beat and pump-up energy, before segwaying into “Rings,” the album’s first official single. Here, Aesop puts his writing chops on full display, moving from second-person introspective to a first-person narrative loaded with psychedelic imagery. Said versatility is perhaps his strongest trait as a lyricist. “Blood Sandwich,” dedicated to his brothers, takes the listener to different time and place: “Steps up to the plate / Little brother, Little League / ’87 he was 8 / Rookie season for the skinny slugger / Newly out of tee-ball / Pit against a pitcher with a ripper you could eat off.” The physical descriptions of his surroundings reinforce the images and the environment of The Impossible Kid, especially when Aesop portrays himself as such.
Later, “Shrunk” marks a return to second-person: “You pack up all your manias / Sitting in the waiting room / You’re dreaming of Arcadia, you’re feeling like a baby tooth / Awaiting panacea, channeling your inner Beowulf.” Expectedly, Aesop impresses lyrically with his well-touted, intelligent bag of tricks, no matter the mode.
The cohesion of the album as a whole, however, is not as laudable. Aesop is a fine and able producer, evidenced by his tendency for meticulous track-layering. But intricacy is no substitute for substance. “Rabies,” while complex, ultimately plays lackluster vis-a-vis bland repetition. The same applies to “Kirby,” with musical nuances that feel both lazy and forced. And give Aesop credit for including more lyrically digestible numbers (“Lotta Years”; “Dorks”), but if production pales when juxtaposed with lyrics, the full effect of the track is not conveyed onto the listener.
Aesop Rock is a blue-chip name; his albums always achieve a certain consistency, sometimes through the production and his delivery alone. The Impossible Kid is no exception, but at the same time, doesn’t elevate much over any of his previous albums. For an artist so dedicated to literary technicalities, Aesop diverts from the usual script just enough to give listeners a better look into his personal life, whether it’s reminiscing on growing pains, or just venting to those who’ll listen. The end result is his most introspective material since “Daylight.” Dedicated fans will appreciate it for its familiarity, which ironically, might also be their deterrent from it.