Aesop Rock, Skelethon
One of his most cohesive and evocative sets
Aesop Rock is often opaque in his best moments. Each phrase is more vivid than the last, but isn’t always connected to it, and piecing together his language frequently results in vague impressions rather than obvious showboating. But he’s also a hell of a scene-setter, and on Skelethon, his first solo album in five years, he ties together one of the most cohesive and evocative sets in his long career. This is an album that dives into the weird, formative experiences of youth, from high school music-fan allegiances (“ZZZ Top”) to test drives of freshly learned curse words (“Racing Stripes”). In the process, his intricately agitated, conversational wah-wah-pedal voice unspools background details that reveal foreground scenarios — the dog rescuing a drowning child from a pool in “Ruby ’81″; the cat-embalming morbidity of “Homemade Mummy”; the eat-your-veggies stalemate of “Grace” — and the rep for cutting one-liners that’s followed him since before Daylight is in full effect. (A bar-ending stunner from “Cycles to Gehenna”: “Here’s how the great escape goes/when you can’t take your dead friends’ names out your phone.”) On top of that, his slate of self-produced beats is Exhibit X in the case for the continued timelessness of his ’00s-vintage indie-hip-hop beats, all seething minor-key riffs that draw every last drop of funk from space-age stoner rock. Call it his best since Labor Days.