Since his first proper release of 'Appleseed' (since the earlier 'Music for Earthworms' was more of a compilation), Aesop Rock has been recognized as one of the underground's sharpest emcees. Throughout 'Appleseed' and its follow-up full-length, the excellent 'Float,' Aesop established a reputation as a lyricist of vast intelligence but formidable abstraction. With last year's awesome 'Labor Days' Aesop, perhaps influenced by his new Def Jux colleagues, worked on more traditional rap skills: brash flows and a more lucid, though still creative, approach to songwriting. The 'Daylight' EP pushes this further: taking one of the album's more approachable songs as its starting-point, its probably his most likeable release yet.
Don't get me wrong, Aesop's still Aesop. But Aesop's five new songs on 'Daylight' (discounting 'Daylight,' the previously-released 'Maintenance,' and Blockhead's excellent instrumental piece 'Forest Crunk') demonstrate a harder, more aggressive style then we're used to, both in the beats and the rhymes. The disparity is most evident on 'Nightlight,' a reinterpretation, more than a remix, of 'Daylight,' with a sinister new beat and a cynical line-by-line revision of the original's hopeful lyrics. Life is a "BI-OTCH" this time instead of a beautiful woman; 'Nightlight' emphasizes the bleak reality over the ideal. The twists on each line are sometimes awkward and generally can't match the original, but as a concept the song is perfectly executed, and a good intro to most of the CD.
'Nickle Plated Pockets' and 'Alchemy,' both produced by producers new to Aesop, are further examples of the new straightforwardness. 'Nickle Plated Pockets,' a slice-of-life joint with an atypically sparse El-P beat, is another good example of Aesop's still verbose but uncommonly straight lyrical approach, noting "now it takes a dancing bear jumping through a flaming hoop to even make them buy the godforsaken single." 'Alchemy' is overwhelmed by Blueprint's bare pounding production and his outstanding flow which dominates the opening guest verse. Aesop has a decent outing, but is thoroughly outshined by the Weightless representative.
The self-produced 'Bracket Basher' is the most notary example of the EP's approach, matching his complex syntax with sentiments familiar to us all: "I'm only here to rap, eat, sleep, grow old and smoke stokes through the hole in my neck." The vocal sample mixed in throughout further highlights the "traditional" hip-hop sound which dominates the EP. As on the rest of the album, he pushes away from the old Aesop Rock to a newer approach closer to the other Def Jukies, less of a regression than a change in emphasis. The bonus song is almost entirely free from the thick language entanglements of songs like 'The Tugboat Complex,' but the vivid account of his mental collapse more than makes up in emotional content what it abandons on the "intellectual" side. Perhaps it lacks what made Aesop special in the first place, but something equally intriguing stands in its place.
The progress of Aesop Rock has been an interesting one: unlike, say, Sole, who moved from traditional origins to further abstract sounds, Aesop has continually brought his otherworldly style further down to earth, gaining new fans while satiating the stalwarts. This release, his most accessible yet, brings the process along considerably, and will surely bring him to the attention of an audience more varied and mainstream.