Hip-hop has gone feral lately, with MCs transmitting freaky, woozy hip-hop through the Internet’s outer orbits. But what to make of the weirdos who have always been with us? Ian Bavitz, the San Francisco MC who performs as Aesop Rock, was a leading light of a late-’90s/early-’00s strain of hip-hop that made a virtue of its flinty independence, sonic experiments and often inscrutable wordplay. “Skelethon” might be the album that takes those core aesthetic traits and spins them into whatever counts for stardom in today’s underground rap world.
The album comes after a late-career pause for Bavitz, who hasn’t released a solo album of new material since 2007. But “Skelethon” finds him producing some of his darkest yet most accessible material yet. The single “Zero Dark Thirty” sets an early template: distorted drums clanging around the mix; pinpricks of synthesizers and noirish sampling and a world where “roving packs of elusive young” scrape out a meager, tech-haunted existence. “Crows 1” borrows from recent beat music’s distressed noises with a spacious minimalism; “ZZZ Top” drops desert-blues guitars over a cymbal-washed breakbeat. But the best compliment to the record is that its omnivorous approach feels right at home today. The weirdos won out in the end.