Aesop Rock’s “None Shall Pass” is what I want to be listening to when the apocalypse hits, and not just because it manages to perfectly evoke, like the best of Aes’ work, the paranoia and grimness surrounding speculation about end times. With his new record Aes goes beyond his previous releases stylistically and lyrically, at times overreaching but more often beckoning the impending doom, making the listener downright joyful at the prospect of being left with nothing but Aes’ voice for company.
The first half is unquestionably the strongest of the album. The opening track, “Keep Off The Lawn,” foreshadows the album’s experimentation, venturing into trip-rock before cutting to a sharp, moody beat. Aes starts his trademark quick rhyming and doesn’t seem to catch his breath for the rest of the album. On the title track, producer Blockhead contributes a delicate electronic sound that Aes weaves through with precision, resulting in the best song on the album and one that can stand next to classics like “Daylight.” Tracks like the playful “Bring Back Pluto” and the ominous, Eastern-inspired “39 Thieves” take advantage of Aes’ deep voice, turning it into the perfect neutral canvas to show off artful, eccentric beats.
At times, though, there’s almost too much variation, and I found myself wishing the album were more reined in. “Dark Heart News” — with its guest appearance from Rob Sonic — and “No City” are particularly bland, and both songs could have been left off completely. The addictively head-nodding “Coffee” with The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle wraps up the album on a better note, but its memory is marred by a forgettable and stale anti-cop secret track that follows.
Aesop fans expecting the rapper’s usual fare, though, won’t be let down by “None Shall Pass,” as all the most important Aes-markers are there: master spitfire flow, a novel’s worth of lyrical depth, and a willingness to experiment with wordplay and beats. With his sixth, full-length album, the Fifth Horseman delivers again.