At first glance, the pairing of underground hip-hop icon Aesop Rock and indie-rock duchess Kimya Dawson (Moldy Peaches) seems like it couldn’t possibly work sonically. Aesop Rock has built his legacy spitting dense, heavy verses that take the listeners’ time and effort to unfold, while Dawson has made her reputation through simple, straight-ahead lyrics buoyed by jangly lo-fi sounds. Throughout their careers however, both artists have used their chosen aesthetics to delve into those parts of us that are deep within all of us, the most human parts in all of us. Their shared willingness to dig their way into the depths of the human experience is the glue that holds together their seemingly disparate music on Hokey Fright, their debut release as the Uncluded.
Both parties involved here prove themselves, once again, as exceedingly good storytellers, with nearly every song on the record weaving tales that involve humour, compassion, sadness and a sensitively keen eye for the human condition. “Delicate Cycle” is a gorgeous contemplation on the nature of isolation and our basic need for love in our lives. Here, over shiny major chords, Dawson tells the tale of her parents, both of whom work seemingly mundane jobs – her mother, the lunch-lady at school who gives attention to those kids who may not get enough and her father, the guy who runs the Laundromat where Dawson learned to be a healthy individual and that still stands as the place she turns to to sort out the growing challenges presented by an aging life. As Aesop rock raps the list of body parts he’s willing to give up for a friend who may need them (“Included are 30 teeth to chew up your critics/32 would have been perfect, 2 were casualties of it’s, it’s…/I always wanted radder things for Christmas”), it’s clear out of the gate that the bonds to duo share are greater than their sonic differences.
The two sonic personalities keep each other in check throughout the record, with neither performer’s style taking over to the detriment of the other. The gentle guitars of “Delicate Cycle” immediately give way to the more Aesop-like bass-heavy dirge of “TV on 10,” which finds the duo dealing with the aftermath of a horrific plane crash (As opposed to those everyday non-horrific plane crashes) over pulsing drums and sinister ambience.
The spectrum of topics here might be the defining feature of the record. Community and the power of relationships pervade the album. The duo approaches every song with a delicate touch and unique insight whether they’re dropping lyrics on the struggles that come from a natural disaster (“Earthquake”), the need to donate one’s organs upon death (“Organs”), the benefits of an unfortunate medical condition (“Scissorhands”) or the need for self-love and affirmation (“Teleprompters”).
By the time the last song, “Tits Up,” rolls around, the Uncluded have managed to deconstruct nearly all the artificial boundaries between underground hip-hop and true, honest indie-rock. In the hands of a traditional hip-hop act that title would signal an ode to gangsta hip-hop values, but here Dawson and Aesop rock turn the electro-beat into an inspirational call-to-arms, to help move people to get up out of the doldrums and live their lives in a more productive, rewarding way. It’s in “Tits Up” where Aesop Rock drops the key to the Uncluded, in the middle of his first verse, as he nails what it is that makes him and Dawson such a lovely pairing: “I write but I’m no Shakespeare in the park/I’m a grownsed up punk with an ear for a heart.”