Album of the Year Review: Aesop Rock & Blockhead – Garbology

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Imagine yourself sifting through a rank trash can; What might you find? Rotten food, mysterious slime, skittering bugs, and a suffocating stench. But occasionally we find a gem underneath which makes it all worth it. On Garbology, we go diving in the dumpster that is Aesop Rock’s brain and come away covered in dirt, but with treasure in hand.

Legendary backpackers Aesop Rock and Blockhead are not exactly an unfamiliar duo. Aesop’s early work, most notably Float and Labor Days, featured numerous Blockhead beats. As time went on, their careers seem to have diverged a bit with Aes leaning far more heavily on his own production talents (which have improved greatly, as evidenced by The Impossible Kid and Spirit World Field Guide). Blockhead continued by putting out some instrumentals and phenomenal collaborations with the sort of deadpan poet Billy Woods. All of that being said, Aesop and Blockhead are a pretty iconic team despite never having a full length project together. Well in 2021, they’ve finally linked back up and the results are phenomenal.

I could hold a wheelie for a decade

Circle any borough like a bird around a headache

Blockhead’s production straddles a perfect balance of traditional and forward thinking – the perfect match for Aesop. While Aes’ own production was extremely synth heavy, unorthodox, and Def Jux-ian, Garbology marks a welcome return to some more grounded sounds. Coming off the epic introduction “Jazz Hands”, we hear a collection of beats so lush they could easily pass as live instrumentation. With the deep horns of “Difficult”, cold keys on “Oh Fudge”, or the choppy guitar on “The Sea”, we get some of the most immaculately produced boombap in recent memory. Meanwhile, Blockhead maintains his own character with comic percussion and cinematic synths. It all feels very loyal to the duo’s classics while adapting perfectly to our modern soundscape.

Aesop’s lyrical style has constantly evolved over the years. From the absurdly dense verses of his early days, to his more anecdotal, easily digestible rapping in the 10’s, and any combination of the two, he is sure to maintain a peerless vocabulary, complex rhymes, and airtight flows. Garbology brings yet another new style; While Aes might have been more concerned with imagery and analogy in the past, there is a newfound penchant for pure wordplay here. There are much clearer punchlines than you usually get on an Aesop album and so many bars are enjoyable in a vacuum, without even dipping into greater themes. In fact, there is a lot of straight-up braggadocio. He flexes his skills through comparisons to cartoonish feats (“Walk into the room and split an arrow with an arrow, the first trick shot is just to show em that I dabble, I will not be aiming for the apple”) and has all of the quirky character we love him for. This lightheartedness is most evident on some earlier songs like “Legerdemain” and “Difficult”, while progressing towards some more overtly personal themes near the end.

The synesthetic cousin to the hum of his discomfort

I been a punching bag for some truly deluded garbage

Now his handshake is a unicorn, his hug a moving target

All of this isn’t to say there aren’t deeper concerns on Garbology. It truly feels like Aes is sifting through all of his thoughts to arise in recent years: The anxieties, the loss, the façades. With “That Is Not a Wizard” and an uncomfortable talk with his neighbor, we find that a major theme of the album is a disdain for posturing and a refusal to be true to your conditions (“I hate ceding power to the extroverts, I find the current social architecture hell on earth, We make shepherds and shadow em to the netherworld”), yet that is exactly what Aesop himself does here. Despite all of the idiosyncrasies and fun bars, we are still wading in the trash of his psyche. There is an amalgamation of good and bad, fresh and forgotten, but we must sort it out ourselves. “Abandoned Malls” is a bleak closer, reminding us of the inevitable emptiness we will all feel at some point in life as only the past pushes us forward.

Listen to Garbology here:


Apple Music

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