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Soundbite

Our critics' picks in new releases

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A esop Rock's previous two albums, 2000's Float and 2001's Labor Days, are sloppily creative, exhausting bursts of rapid-fire rhymes and skewed samples. Born Ian Bavitz, the MC's nasal, singsong delivery on these records put cynical, world-weary lenses on popular culture. On his latest, Bazooka Tooth, Aesop Rock updates the prescription on those lenses but ends up drowning part of his message in an album whose chaos is sometimes overwhelming. The opening title track runs through two completely different beats with opposing moods in two and a half minutes, yet most of the other songs on the record spend too much time on the same beat. In some cases this is necessary; throughout "Easy," an arpeggiated synth hook bobs and weaves over the song's five-minute evolution of stuttering drums as Aesop nods to Public Enemy and their dj Terminator X's first solo album, In the Valley of the Jeep Beats. A duet with Mr. Lif on "11:35" is propelled by juxtaposing samples of operatic falsettos and barked vocal ad libs before it breaks down into a frenetic vocals-only middle section and ends with an eerie coda that draws influence from many of today's ambient/electronic artists (Four Tet, Prefuse 73, etc.). So much happens on each track of Bazooka Tooth that repeated listens reveal more subtleties, lyrical and musical. Part of the fun comes from picking out the various pop culture references, from the obscure (Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania groundhog around whom an entire Groundhog Day festival revolves) to the already forgotten (short-lived reality game show "The Weakest Link"). But the most disappointing moments on the album come from the childish commentary on "motherfuckers talkin' shit" about Aesop Rock and crew. Guest production on "We're Famous" by El-P is rife with his traditionally complex, brilliant beats, but his guest rhymes referring to how many records he can hawk underscores the whole point behind current independent hip-hop. Dissing other MC's has been part of hip-hop's playfully competitive legacy, but verbal sales reports should be reserved for rappers who run out of things to talk about. Cattiness aside, though, Bazooka Tooth's obstacle course of wordplay and sound delivers the goods indeed; it just takes a while for them to arrive.

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