Aesop’s fabled past or just pass

For better or worse, the indie-rapper’s held himself back in familiar sound

It took three full play-throughs of “None Shall Pass,” the latest from indie-rapper Aesop Rock, for the tracks to differentiate themselves from one another.

The good thing about this? Apparently this East Coast rhyme-sayer (no shout-outs intended) knows what he’s good at. “None Shall Pass” is packed full of quick tempos, samples woven directly into the fabric of each song and Aesop’s unmistakable voice spewing lines that on their own don’t make sense, but come together to paint the picture of a slightly twisted world.

Aesop’s voice is key to his music and his success. He was able to differentiate himself from other middle-class, white, artsy-indie rappers in the late ’90s because of his deep, melodic and clear vocal stylings.

Not surprisingly, then, the most unique and delicious morsels on “None Shall Pass” are those that feature Aesop’s voice first and foremost.

“Coffee,” the album’s last track, and the hidden song that follows it, are contrasting examples of how Aesop has mastered his voice and can use it in different sound situations.

“Coffee” is a caffeinated, quick-tongued track sprinkled over a driven beat built around a bass guitar and drum set. Aesop’s voice dips and rises with each line, creating a laid-back, sing-song feel to an otherwise rushed track.

The hidden track, which by all accounts should be titled “Pigs” because of the overwhelming theme of the chorus, sounds like a freestyle performed for money at a bus stop. Aesop sits on the sidewalk, slouched against the

Aesop Rock, The Octopus Project, Blockhead

WHEN: 8 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 16
WHERE: First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $15 advance, $17 door, 18+, www.first-avenue.com, (612) 332-1775

wall, hurling out insults at corporate passersby over clapping and a dirty acoustic guitar, stretching each line to fill the spaces in the stripped and basic tune.

“None Shall Pass,” Aesop’s fifth album, confirms his status as a veteran of the indie hip-hop scene. It’s a solid demonstration of his vocal skills and production abilities.

However, Aesop knows what he’s good at and doesn’t push past this above-mediocre standard throughout most the album.

The tracks start to blend together and everything sounds alike after the first listen-through. No tracks stand out as being particularly bad, but nothing is especially awe-inspiring, either.

The main cause of this generic sound is Aesop not pushing to change the tempo or beat style on each song. For instance, the album’s title track and the next two songs sound so alike it would be forgivable to think they were all parts of a 15-minute ballad.

Each of these three songs has Aesop rapidly slurring lines over an expected, bass-heavy beat. Throw in some samples of children saying things like, “This is my friend Tony. He’s pretty cool but not always so smart,” and warp the vocals on some lyrics, and all three of these songs are practically one.

“Gun for the Whole Family” feels like a little bit of every track on the album blending into one confusing and slightly off-beat song. It has a slightly dark and twisted feel, emphasized by the chopped and screwed, deep-voiced, slo-mo interlude hitting the middle of the track. Aesop’s voice sounds no different than El-P’s, who makes an appearance on the track.

The lines, like “Not of milk and honey/ there was only skulls and bunnies/that hop around drunk in the land of a hundred Mondays,” reflect the slightly dark and artsy feel of Aesop’s work, but aren’t necessarily innovative.

After a few listens, the slight distinctions of the tracks rise to the top of the album, pulling each song apart from its neighbors.

It’s clear on “None Shall Pass” that Aesop Rock knows his audience and what they expect from him. And he fills these expectations.

However, “None Shall Pass” has been done before by Aesop. The album shows he isn’t looking to push onto new artistic ground or recreate his image.

So, while Aesop gets a passing grade for overall album quality, he fails to advance his music and image.