The Blockhead-produced title track on the Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives EP sounds as if stalwart Def Jux emcee Aesop Rock should be arm-locked with Dorothy and the Tin Man as they prance along a yellow-brick alleyway paved with Ace’s bitter decree and a mess of scratchin’ and piano loops. It’s been a little over a year since he dropped his third full-length, Bazooka Tooth, named after his superhero alter-ego, a personality he assumes again on the opener. Fast Cars is just the latest edition of Ace Rock’s soundtrack to his travels toward the center of psychedelia, Def Jux style.
The first 20,000 copies will be accompanied by a long-anticipated, eighty-page book of lyrics, artwork and photos called The Living Human Curiosity Sideshow(it’s about time he included a lyric book with his release: it just makes sense). Blockhead, who made most of Ace’s pre-Bazooka Tooth beats, returns for three of the EP’s seven tracks, and is in company with Rob Sonic for beatmakin’ duties. S.A. Smash, El-P and Cage help on vocals. Every offering winds in its own strange direction, birthing more twisted wit and intricate backdrops that will take eons to decipher. The Brooklyn-based poet relays plentiful street tales and inner peering that never disappoints but always beckons for close, determined attention. The most significant of said moments roll off Ace’s tongue and Blockhead’s fingertips in “Holy Smokes,” the emcee’s retelling of his Catholic-school battleground and questions never answered.
“By the time I was old enough to know what religion was, I was Catholicism-numb and truly didn’t give a fuck,” he says in “Holy Smokes.” Sound familiar? Aesop’s quarrel with the Catholic church-sponsored patriarchal pedophilia takes hold in the song’s first verse. He says candidly that if your middle school education took place in the halls of Our Lady of the Worthless Miracle, you were bound to have questions come your seventeenth birthday, when the tooth fairies and Easter bunnies of the book of Leviticus began to look a little fishy. Blockhead crowns this questionnaire with a score worthy of any bloody Inquisition: an ominous bell and guitar loop and even a brief, puzzling parable sample, right out of Karl Rove’s keepsake scrapbook.
Aesop Rock’s endeavors grow increasingly encoded with each mystifying release. He’s challenging his listeners to the point of frustration, as patience and tolerance must be evenly distributed among each subsequent listen. In the meantime, get used to the comfortable frame he’s made his own: relishing in throwback hip-hop with an insightful, forward-looking monocle.