Cryptic, baffling and chaotic are some ways you could describe Aesop Rock’s signature lyrical approach. Since inception, the Syosset born rapper has often set aside digestibility in favor for flat out indecipherable rhymes. His last solo outing, The Impossible Kid was unique, as it offered far more straightforward interpretations of family, relationships and death. Spirit World Field Guide is a superb return to the weird, a travelers guide for otherworldly excursions. The hallmark of the post-Def Jux era has been beats from the Producer/MC himself, here they have improved tenfold. The textures are lush and aggressive and along that comes some of his most vivid descriptions to date. Somewhere on the fringe of spiritual and physical existence, this LP beckons visitors to approach, albeit with poise and caution. Digesting the work in pieces is not only necessary to fully appreciate, it’s encouraged by the author himself in the opening track. Traversing the Spirit World is no small feat and with 21 tracks to consume, the journey can be a bit daunting. Although it looses steam towards the end, it makes up for in sheer execution of the thesis.
The sonic atmosphere is dense with psychedelic guitars, heavy basslines and uneasy synth progressions. Meticulously placed horns and beat switches perpetually drive the momentum forward. The downright nightmarish boom-bap is pleasantly juxtaposed with indie rock and lighthearted detours. Spirit World has a surefire blueprint, contrasting rigorous verses with sparse, stripped down hooks. After being bombarded with an endless string of metaphors and stoned philosophy you’re given a mantra like hook to wind down with. The breakneck speed of “Button Masher” and “Gauze” utilize blink and you’ll miss it wordplay, back by a precise, clear flow. “Boot Soup” and “Sleeper Car” showcase the East Coast influence front and center, emphasizing drums and bars over everything. The former contains some gems like, “I almost died on a scooter, I almost died on a boat / I figure fuck it baby come as you are and die as you go.” This peculiar brand of honesty and rawness is present throughout, as Aesop switches from silly to serious on a dime.
A fair amount of tracks seem to be hijacked out of a different project entirely. Short, one-verse ideas occur as welcome segues from the denser material. The guitar-driven tunes “Dog at the Door” and “Flies” are lighthearted pit-stops for weary listeners. “1 to 10” reminds me of The Impossible Kid’s “Shrunk”, detailing a trip to the doctor’s office in a folksy demeanor. The creation is undeniably tremendous, it just doesn’t stick the landing with late game risks like “Fixed and Dilated” and timing experiment “Side Quest”. “Marble Cake” is a fantastic closer, followed by a lesser one right after. The journey is gorgeous but pretty damn tiring as well. Spirit World Field Guide is a lush, monumental piece of work, just a tad uncertain towards the end.