Aesop Rock, one of underground hip-hop’s most enduring and illuminating talents, has announced his new album Spirit World Field Guide is set for release on November 13 via Rhymesayers Entertainment. The collection, arguably the most expansive and ambitious work in the verbose MC/producer’s storied career, is a concept album of sorts; a guide to an upside-down world illustrated across 21 insightful chapters of firsthand know-how of the terrain, wildlife, and social customs of our parallel universe, rife with hallucinatory images of killer eels, magic spells, and people on the run, peppered among anecdotes, recipes, survival tips, warnings, maps, drawings, and more. “If you are among the countless individuals who find themselves feeling both dead and alive at the same time, the information contained within may serve as an invaluable asset to your journey,” states Aesop. “Godspeed and good luck.” The album’s parallel world comes into vivid, breathing focus via a music video for standout track “The Gates,” directed by Rob Shaw, utilizing illustrations by Justin “Coro” Kaufman, who also designed the album’s vivid cover.
Aesop Rock has been on a creative tear lately that’s brought his lyrical and production skills to wholly unexplored territory. Last year he and Black Moth Super Rainbow mastermind Tobacco released a full-length collaboration under the name Malibu Ken that raised the bar on hip-hop synthesizer psychedelia to dizzying new heights. This year alone he’s released the tightly wound standalone single “Rogue Wave” and Freedom Finger (Music From The Game), a 10-song EP recorded to accompany his friend, artist Travis Millard’s new video game. Aesop’s not just exploring new sounds, he’s also making more expressive music. The feeling of being a stranger in a strange land permeates the album down to its sonic foundation. The beats are aggressive but appropriately haunted, with a touch of the otherworldly. This is seance radio, doomsday funk, high-anxiety head-nod shit. This is a master craftsman hitting a wild new stride.
The world explored on the album bears a lot of similarities to our own, especially in its current state. The free-floating anxiety, the looming existential dread, the paranoia and suspicion that define our moment? It’s all familiar turf for Aesop. The path through the Spirit World is the path to freedom, and while Aesop will show you the way, he won’t hold your hand. He can’t. We all have to take this journey ourselves. There aren’t any shortcuts, but if you keep your ears open you will find the way.
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