Some MCs are imposing because of their swagger; Aesop Rock intimidates with opacity. The fourth full-length album in a decade from the Long Island-born abstractionist is a boon to fans of unconventional lyricism, largely because Aes has honed his flow and now sounds comfortable going about business as (un)usual. Elaborate analogies, dense allusions and traffic-jam anxiety are all delivered in that droning, sneering, frequently rapid-fire human wah-wah pedal of a voice.
At the same time, he's come into his own as a producer. While Blockhead — the beatsmith who crafted the majority of the personality on earlier efforts like Float and Labor Days — contributes seven tracks (including the title track's anxious disco-jazz and the rare groove boom-bap of "Getaway Car") and Def Jux associates El-P and Rob Sonic deploy dystopian b-boy breaks on "Gun for the Whole Family" and "Dark Heart News" respectively, much of the record's psych-funk atmosphere is nailed into place by beats Aesop's assembled; the grimy fuzz guitar on "Keep Off the Lawn" and the Zapp-with-delirium-tremens bounce of "Citronella" are as uncompromising as his lyrics.
Patient listeners will eventually realize that, opaque as they are, those lyrics do mean something — frequently commenting on the tribulations of human interaction, coming of age and figuring out where you belong in the world. Listeners less interested in deconstructing his verbiage should at least be able to appreciate the way his flow borders slickness and panic, making for a mesmerizing lead instrument.