Ready to take on the impossible, kid? Help us take on The Impossible Kid, the 7th studio release by veteran wordsmith Aesop Rock. You can thank listener Alex StarF Alverson for today’s pick as we hope you’ll join us in peeling back the layers of this complex self-assessment of an album: one of both the artist and the person. As wordsmithing will be of critical importance to today’s episode, we decided to conduct our own self-assessment in our topic [at 1:48:18] as we take a brief look at the importance of word choice in critical analysis, as well as in the art itself.
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Next week’s review:
On the Impossible Past by The Menzingers
Guest: Matt Dorsi
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Well first off I’d like to say thank you so much once again for doing an episode on this album at my request. I’d like to follow that by saying you’re welcome for pushing you to do this album. 😉
OH WHERE TO BEGIN.
I suppose I’ll start by throwing in my own two cents on the conversation about whether or not extreme density and abstract matter in lyrics is a detriment or a positive. Of course like all things the answer isn’t clear cut and varies based on the context, so assuming we’re talking The Impossible Kid I’d say that for me it totally works… most of the time. In most cases deep cut references or abstract meanings hidden behind complex metaphors lead to more and more content being realized upon multiple listens. In the event that the listener doesn’t know what specifically the reference is at all it provides a gateway to learn about a new thing – this is one aspect I really enjoy about music like this. Delving deep into lyrics and learning about new subjects is something I absolutely love to do. It provides a better understanding of the album at hand first and foremost, but it also provides me with a wider base of cultural knowledge I may not have been exposed to in general.
I think the real problem with abstract lyrics, and this was touched on when you got to the track TUFF, is when it’s cryptic but not referring to public knowledge but rather private knowledge. This in effect alienates the listener because then there is no way to research these things, it’s simply left up to interpretation. That’s why I think the abstract and cryptic lyrics work so well in tracks like Mystery Fish, and maybe feel a little bit more restrictive in tracks like TUFF. Also to the point of the public references being fun: if you ARE familiar with what he’s rapping about it becomes that much sweeter on the first (or first few) listens! Point in case: Jon felt some of the references a little overbearing in Mystery Fish, but was so delighted to have the knowledge to explain the albatross line from Dorks.
Now as for your critique of the album as a whole I must say you did a wonderful job (as usual) and I agree with pretty much everything that was said. I too prefer the first portion of the album and experience the same sort of pitfalls near the end – which is a damn shame. But as someone who has spent a little more time with it I want to share a story about the one song that I feel should have been cut from the album completely: Defender.
Defender is a good song, but I don’t think it belongs on this album. Even in your review by the time you got to it I found it funny because you barely even talked about it. It’s obvious that this track was just kind of… here. And besides the fact that it does feel a little trite this late in the album, I also feel like the entire thing feels a little thematically different too. I know it’s not because of the narrative aspect (I mean I enjoyed the straight-up storytelling so much on Blood Sandwich), so I’m not sure what it is, but this track just feels wrong here on the album and I feel like I enjoy it less because of that. BUT I was recently driving and had all of my music on shuffle and this song came on and I loved listening to it. I firmly believe that it would have had a better home on an EP or maybe released as a one-off single.
Moving on, I’m not going to sit here and point out all of the things you either missed or simply chose not to talk about. As discussed this is an extremely dense album and all of that can be chalked up to the fact that you either have to spend a lot of time with it to catch everything (Which I have. I haven’t gone more than a few days without listening to this album in full since it came out), and that if you WERE going to discuss everything your podcast would end up being five hours long. But the one thing I did want to point out that seemed a little more glaring is Supercell. The one thing that was never brought up is the aspect of it essentially being a Christmas song without actually sounding like one. More specifically this is a song about the struggle of whether or not Aes should go home and be with his family during the holiday season.
Most of this can be especially extrapolated from the second verse. It starts off with the easy to catch Christmas imagery (“On Dasher // Half-dead carolers // Deck a hall, wreck a whole advent calendar”) and moves on to discuss his options of being with his family or not. The album makes no attempt to hide the fact that religion has driven a wedge between him and his mom (Such as the entire second verse from Blood Sandwich, or the line “These kids are running wild, I’m still recovering from church” from Lotta Years), and that’s why you get the following:
“Truthfully I don’t know which makes me a bigger coward
Either stomach all the hubris, cash in his two cents
Loose lips locked up over a chewed Eucharist”
He could just swallow his pride and go have a happy little holiday get together with his family, pretending everything is jolly as can be, OR…
“Or, maybe re-appropriate the energy
Holed up, passing the poultry to Hecate
Bullheaded burn out fled his own pedigree
And never better, never would’ve met your Heaven anyway”
Accept that because of this rift between them that maybe it would just be better to disappear completely, and become a ghost to them.
Another track that had an interesting piece of speculation attached to it when I was doing my own research on the album is Dorks. You pretty much nailed what the song is about in broad terms, but I read opinions from various people (And of course it bears stating that who knows if any of this is true or not) that this song is specifically about El-P. I was wondering if you would have stumbled onto this in your own research as well, and thought it might be an interesting point of discussion considering your recent episode on RTJ2.
I’m bouncing around all over the place here but I want to talk for a moment about TUFF again. As Matt pointed out this track is pretty much just supposed to be unhinged and crazy. Aes tweeted about it specifically saying: “TUFF is sorta the feeling of being off-the-rails a bit, where you decide you should probably get some help after. Just wanted to bug out.” And when taken at face value it is just a fun track. I don’t feel it impedes on the album’s continuity at all like Defender does, for some reason a bit of chaos right here makes total sense to me after a few more straight-forward tracks.
Also as a bit of my own personal head-canon I like to think of TUFF as being sort of an unhinged “I’m off my meds” type of track, specifically due to this bit in the lyrics: “My wig-picker threw me out of her office // Had to cold turkey ‘benzos, summer was awesome // Onion of ‘bensis // Summer was awesome // Got brats on the grill // Wormwood in the cauldron.” It’s Aes unable to refill a prescription and just sort of being left to his own devices suddenly and unexpectedly. This is once again personal interpretation but I think this track is just fun and sort of an all over the place wrap-up of where we’ve come on the album so far.
Finally as far as specific tracks go I want to touch on the finale of Molecules. I was surprised you didn’t talk about the last verse which is such a phenomenal ending to this album, and incredibly interesting because it’s really just a big “fuck you” to his fan base in a way. The whole thing stating that in order to find success in what he’s doing you sort of have to be stuck in a miserable life, and so he’s literally afraid to get help and become happy because of his success as a musical artist. I don’t remember where it was mentioned but like you guys brought up: Sadness is far more interesting than happiness.
Anywho there’s probably more to say (I mean there’s always more to say, let’s be honest) but I’m pretty tired at the moment so I’m going to wrap it up and call that a comment! Thanks again for being rad! 🙂
OH I also wanted to leave some suggestions for other rap albums to check out that you’ll probably be into since you enjoyed this!
Most of this is going to just be a generic list, but there is one above and beyond that I want to mention foremost: Copper Gone by Sage Francis. Sage is my favorite rapper and his most 2014 album Copper Gone is an incredible piece of musical art. Thematically it actually has some very similar themes to The Impossible Kid, but takes it all in a very different direction. Absolutely look into that one.
As far as my generic listing goes for rad rap albums that must be checked out:
Eyedea & Abilities – By The Throat (2009)
Atmosphere – You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005)
Sims – Bad Time Zoo (2011)
Dessa – A Badly Broken Code (2010)
P.O.S. – Never Better (2009)
DOOMTREE – No Kings (2011)
Astronautalis – This Is Our Science (2011)
Buck 65 – Situation (2007)
B. Dolan – Kill The Wolf (2015)
OH and making this list reminded me of a couple things related to Aesop Rock I wanted to mention.
First off, as far as this comment goes, it should go without saying that the rest of Aes’s discography is worth looking into. His last solo album Skelethon is also wonderful and so is None Shall Pass. BUT here’s the thing: Aes is also in a couple groups!
Hail Mary Mallon is Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, and DJ Big Wiz and is a pretty straight-forward hip hop collective. They released an album in 2014 called Bestiary that was rad as hell.
Then there’s The Uncluded which is Aesop Rock with Kimya Dawson doing a very weird but very cool indie rock/rap project. This one is a bit harder to describe but once again totally worth checking out their debut album from Hokey Fright in 2013.
I also wanted to point out that as far as words go, Aes is leading the rap game!
I’m not sure if there’s any one else that could contest, but as far as they looked for this particular project Aesop Rock has used the most unique words in hip hop across his lyrics. Fun facts!