In what has been a landmark year or so for animated music videos and a complete shitshow for most other things, there have been some real creative tour de forces. Many acts have realised that people are more likely to listen to uninspiring music if it’s bolstered by an inspirational video. Aesop Rock does not share this concern. His new music video for “Jumping Coffin”, a track from last year’s ethereal Spirit World Field Guide album, kicks on all cylinders. The scruffy yet highly literate uncle of underground hip-hop, Ace follows up his recent frog-based fist-pumper “Long Legged Larry” with another audio-visual head-spinner, a worthy addition to the backpack rap canon.
Aesop Rock is an artist himself, explaining the eye for detail shown in all album art, merchandise and music videos. A video simply will not bear the name Aesop Rock unless it passes a stringent test of artistic integrity. His music is approached in much the same fashion and “Jumping Coffin” bears the common formula used throughout Spirit World Field Guide. Head-cracking beat, cerebral rhyme schemes. Over whipcrack drums, a distorted 8-bit synth and audacious bass, Aesop Rock launches an apparent stream-of-conscious treatise on the physical and spiritual and the thin shred of tissue separating them.
Aesop Rock has a well-documented predilection towards skating, and this features heavily in the video for “Jumping Coffins”. The video was directed by Rob Shaw, like the previous Spirit World Field Guide videos “The Gates”, “Pizza Alley” and “Coveralls” and they seem to be building up the titular spirit world into some kind of interlinking anthology, which is undeniably thug. Shaw uses rotoscoping technology to project crude animated skeletons onto some top class skaters to create a playfully surreal atmosphere in a world eerily similar to our own. One skeleton does the rapping, gestures and all, leading me to envision Aesop Rock spitting in a motion capture suit, which is a hilarious and confusing image.
The skeleton skaters are followed at all time by various animal skeletons, a thematic line running through the album. Aesop Rock likes to take a concept and run with it, almost single-handedly saving the album format and keeping continuity without so much as spilling his mescaline. Rather than wallow in complacency after 25 years in the game, he has honed his vision down to an aerodynamic, artistic nub. His recent output has been superficially more accessible but with lyrics more dense and weighty than ever. There is something endlessly reassuring about the enduring appeal of Aesop Rock. Some feel as though he should be more recognised in mainstream circles, but I feel that if avant garde hip hop was more profitable he wouldn’t have to keep making albums to pay the rent, which would be unacceptable. Grab Spirit World Field Guide here.
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