Release Date: 09.23.03
Record label: Definitive Jux
Genre(s): Rap, Hip-Hop, R&B, etc.
More Than Abstract
by: geoff ashmun
A few days after a desperate request for a Bazooka Tooth lyric sheet, I received a strange response from Aesop Rock’s publicist: “He’s working on one, but it won’t be ready anytime soon. It’s pretty dense stuff.” Understatement aside, I wasn’t sure if I was getting the runaround, or if Aesop Rock had actually penned his lyrics on spare fast food napkins, the ink bleeding to the point of illegibility. God, I don’t envy that job. In any case, the emphasis at Def Jux has always been on the recordings, certainly not accomodating the media. That much is obvious when hearing the promo, which is littered with strange voices creatively spliced together to announce “promo, Aesop Rock: Bazooka Tooth, promo.” These guys guard their work closely – which is both admirable and at times obnoxious.
The same might be said of the label’s sonically dense brand of urban reflection. On more than one occasion, Def Jux Grand Poobah El-P has publicly expressed his pleasure with baffling listeners. He sums up the rich, yet unsavory aesthetic nicely on his equally brilliant and impenetrable solo effort, Fantastic Damage: “Motherfucker, do I sound abstract? I hope I’m more confusing than that.”
And so assessing Bazooka Tooth may be a futile effort in some respects, since Aesop Rock’s post-Float output – namely Labor Days, the Daylight EP and the new record – are all above reproach for those into willfully complicated collages of a noirish New York City landscape as reminiscent of Predator as anything post-9/11. It’s a big leap, but if cracking open a thesaurus and large time investments are your bags, then Aesop Rock fills them to the brim with hyper-literate imagery, layers of spastic, tempo-shifting vocals (think mildly epileptic comic book collector), off-balance beats and scratches, and samples ranging from jazz to Eastern.
Like any indie rap record worth its wax, Bazooka Tooth takes a few shots at industry prostitution and politics. “Along came a spider sprung and alert, who makes records with his tongue in the dirt, suffer the dirty earth crisis with a license to flirt,” he says, creating a bit of mock fable in “Easy.” Later, in the song he references a familiar Darwinian game show: “Mr. Blizzard Shoulder he always acts so pissy, plus your friend said I was an asshole when he met me, no bad moves allowed when you’re in the public eye, kill it, you are the weakest link, goodbye.”
So-called underground rap is easily the most ambitious genre in contemporary pop music right now, but in the process of proving itself, it often sacrifices accessibility. Aesop Rock’s production has grown only more sophisticated since Labor Days, but if anything it’s the empty spaces on Bazooka Tooth’s predecessor that make for a more palatable experience. There’s nothing as immediately catchy as “Daylight,” which was one of the most existentially nuanced working class odes to come out in years. Instead, Bazooka Tooth is a 70-minute revolving door, in which you repeatedly enter into a song just long enough to stumble out with a handful of choice images and a vague sense of its sonic makeup. You’ll find plenty of brilliance here, but you’ll also dizzy yourself in the process. 01-Oct-2003 7:45 PM