Album Review: The Impossible Kid by Aesop Rock
I’m at risk of sliding into an uncommitted headspace when it comes to this blog, so I’m falling back on an idea given to me by a friend the last time I had troubles coming up with something to write. The reason I’m reviewing this album in particular is simple: I want to listen to it. This album is in my top five of all time, so I’ll use this to kick off reviews of each album and why they mean so much to me.
This song has some of my favorite lines in all of music, including “Tech support, feral army/In a cave on a failed bit of terraforming,” and “Adopt no Xerxes, fear no moon man/stay true like a wolf wearing wolf pants.” The way he delivers the vocals makes me think of juggling, and that’s what rap is about to me. Busta Rhymes is known to roll the dice with his rhymes, you can hear Eminem dance in front and behind his beats, and there are times where Aesop feels like he’s juggling. It’s an acrobatic song in my ears. More importantly though, it does a wonderful job kicking off an album that is essentially a diary of mental illness. Mystery Fish is a portrait of the jumbled, abstract and complex headspace that is Aesop Rock.
Rings is a solid track that seems to be rooted in a lamented artistic career. The first section in the second verse hits me in a spot close to home. “Used to paint/Hard to admit that I used to paint/Natural light on a human face/Stenciled fire on his roommate's bass/It was blooming addiction/Amiss in the pushing of pigment/Book like a tattooed pigskin, look/Pinhead kids of the minute/Drank Kool-Aid from a tube of acrylic.” There was a period in my life where this song would have rung true to my sense of musicianship and guitar playing abilities. Losing passion for a passion that will stay with you is a special type of hell, and this song captures the melancholy that comes along with it.
This is my second favorite song on the album. It’s two little stories about a guy with tattoos at an ice cream shop, and the dreads on a girl at a juice place. It’s over quickly with a sudden realization that Aesop is old now. “My mind's fucking blown/The future is amazing, I feel so fucking old/I bet you clone your pets and ride a hover-board to work/I used a folding map to find the juice place in the first.” This is one I relate to on an intimate level, just like Rings. There’s a woman at work who is five years younger than me and hip AF, I view her as a bridge to “what the kids are doing these days,” because apparently, being twenty-nine is as good as eighty when it comes to slang and trends.
Dorks is a total banger, but I saw a badly mixed performance of it on Late Night with Stephen Colbert, and for some reason it’s all I can think about when I hear this one now. As a song, it’s a little more abstract, but I think this one is about being in that weird, self-imposed exile that comes with depression as well as a discontent with where the “scene” he belonged to. I’m not sure, but it feels like he’s taking shots at the inflated “beef” edge of hip hop while passing over the intellectual/art-rap corners that he finds himself in. This is something you hear echoed on albums by guys like busdriver and Open Mike Eagle as well.
This one took me a while to crack, but according to the album’s description on Bandcamp, Aesop lived in a barn for a portion of the recording of The Impossible Kid. From Bandcamp —
“His creative process now includes a newfound willingness to open up about his personal life, going deep on topics like depression, his sometimes rocky relationship with his family, and the turbulent handful of years that culminated in Aesop leaving his adopted home of San Francisco to live in a barn out in the woods, where he recorded the foundations of The Impossible Kid.”
So, this abstract list of thoughts is seemingly a metaphorical journey through the time he abandoned society to live in the woods. I’ve definitely shared a lot of these headspaces, and if I had the ability, I would have moved into a barn years ago myself.
This one’s about isolation and running away from anyone that wants to be close. There’s also a heavy catholic/atheist struggle running through the whole thing. The more I dig into this album, the closer I feel to this guy. Much of my life has been spent reckoning my catholic upbringing with the rest of the world and deciding for myself what’s real and what’s not—and this song is steeped in that uncertainty. By the time the third verse rolls around, the theme of depression enters the fray again with lines like “raspberry jelly on his Jesus toast/and turn heather gray sweats into Easter clothes.” I like this song because it does what I like best: it disguises a darker message within a good beat and tight rhymes, allowing it to hide in plain sight.
Who doesn’t like a good song about gophers invading little league games, or the life-and-death situation of heavy-metal concerts as a kid? Much like with Ruby ’81 from his previous album, Skelethon, Aes crafts stories with a beginning, a middle and end in each verse. It’s a love letter to his brothers and does an amazing job of placing the listener in the heads of the people in those situations. My favorite part about this song is that it’s the next logical step after writing something like Ruby ’81. Ruby is a short little song about a baby falling into a pool and being rescued by the family dog; it’s a homerun as far as tension is concerned. Blood Sandwich carries the same punch but puts you inside of a three-person brotherhood in the prime of its growth.
Get Out of the Car
This song kicks off the pair of songs that most describe me on this album. Get Out of the Car seems like it was written by me in a parallel universe. “You can own what you are/And still sit around stoned in your car/Not doing shit, halfway to nil/Cranky and waiting for a boss key and hat full of bills.” If there is a better description for how I spent the first six months of this year, I don’t what it is. This song hits home is such a real way that it makes me feel uncomfortable when I listen to it. It’s not like it pulls up bad emotions or is a negative song; it just holds up a mirror to all the way I was wasting myself.
Shrunk is another favorite because of how real it feels. Going to a shrink is the fucking toughest thing in the world, especially if it’s your social anxiety and paranoia imposing the need to go in the first place. The first verse is all about just sitting there, filling out the forms. The second verse moves into the waiting room, and the glowing-hell that is the wait. I think of this song every time I go myself, and it’s never any less true. By the third verse, he’s talking to the doc. I love every single word of that verse so much, I’m gonna post it here.
She says, "I'm not your enemy."
I said, "That sounds like something that my enemy would say
Instead of playing off the chemistry."
She said, "You're being difficult."
I said, "I'm being guarded; you're a quarter mil in debt
I get more guidance from my barber
Look, I'm not good at this, I grew up in a noogie-fest
You built your walls up high
Or say goodbye to all your Cookie Puss
Here's one: every time my telephone buzzes
I see images of hooded riders setting fire to hundreds.”
She said, "When you start getting all expressive and symbolic
It's impossible to actualize an honest diagnostic."
I said, "When you start getting all exact and algebraic
I'm reminded it's a racket, not a rehabilitation."
Okay, agree to disagree as grown-ups from opposing clans
Honoring the push and pull, I should have called the Scholomance
Oh well, preservation is a doozie
"Will you be needing another appointment?" – "Absolutely,"
This is just a goofy song about the cat he bought on the shrink’s recommendation. There’s certain things that make me think of my pooch, and that’s why thing song’s a win for me. Also, it’s danceable as heck. Not a lot to say about this—it’s one of them rare cute bangers that contemplates a larger backstory than a cat ever needs. I love it.
TUFF is a weird one to me. I think it’s a cool song, but I don’t love it. If it weren’t for the beatbox breakdown that starts at 2:58, I’d almost call it a write-off. But, that little section makes the whole song worth it. It’s so damn cool. As far as context, I could speculate, but I also found this tweet from the artist himself, so why not read his own words about the song?
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.— Aesop Rock (@AesopRockWins) April 30, 2016
The best part of this song is the baseline. It’s the only part that ever gets stuck in my head, and for some reason, is the only part I’ll sing along with. As far as part of the journey of the man, it’s stacked with self acceptance and improvement. Blatantly, with lines like “Started eating kale and came to terms with my lazy eye,” and the hook, “Act natural/Whatever that means for you.” Lazy Eye has a voicemail on it from Chuck D of Public Enemy, that says: “Hey peace Aesop uh It's Chuck D. Yo man, you keep doin' what you're doin' man. Keep rhymin' through those walls, alright?” Which is the coolest shit ever, and if that happened to me, you best believe I’d put it in a song too. Lazy Eye wins the special shout-out for “Not My Favorite, but One of the Coolest on the Album.”
Defender is one of those songs that I really don’t care to know the story behind it, but it feels like the search for greater meaning? On the surface it sounds like a song about an overinflated neighborhood watch—but I also get the vibes that it’s rooted in a truth. If you’re depressed and have nothing to do, a simple responsibility like “look out for bobcats” can make you feel like George Patton.
Whether it be about it or not, this song feels rooted in rebellion. The hook is simple, “Pee ‘no rules’ on the water tower,” repeated over and over, and for this reason alone (the beat is a bonus point), Water Tower has become one of my favorite songs of all time. The descending tone that oscillates and evens out repeatedly though the tune is just so perfect for the mood that’s created in the song, and when it ends, it flows with ease into the next track.
Like most of the final tracks on Aesop’s albums, Molecules is abstract AF. It has a cool chorus, but again, like TUFF and Dorks, it’s good, but it’s not my favorite. It feels like he thinks he’s crazy for choosing a career in music, how he’s broke and spinning, but it’s nessesary. As I was writing this post, I found a four-episode series that Aesop made to accompany the album. It’s a few “therapy” session with an animated bear in the woods, which is goofy, but it contains context for The Impossible Kid in ways that the lyrics just can’t convey.
All in all, the reason I like this album is because it got me into lyrics for the first time. No matter what I listen to I seem to listen with a backing musicians’ mindset, I’m always listening to the instrumentation, and the vocals are little more than another rhythm and melody. When a friend showed me this album back in 2016, it sucked me in to the world of rap again, though I took a different path this time around. Rap is about the lyrics and the flow, and Aesop opened the door to appreciating the artists I already love on a different level for me.