ork sucks," says Aesop Rock. It is a time worn sentiment, the spreading of which does nothing to help us through our proletariat hell. Existentially, we’re all worthless, masses of skin and bone simply working to get through the week. Work may suck, but it is what ultimately defines us. These concepts are explored in depth on his latest release Labor Days. Aesop dissects the human psyche, hip-hop style, detailing its struggle with religion, creativity and general life in the big city, New York in this case.
On the surface, you have this giant metropolis full of innocent employees, faithful servants to the man. In the song "9-5ers Anthem" he says, "We the American working population hate the fact that eight hours a day is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn’t us," a pretty bitter theme, and one that would be wholly discounted if it weren’t so heavily enforced and expanded throughout the album. What begins as an ignorable manifesto becomes a cry for individuality, "All I ever wanted was to take apart the day, put the pieces back together my way," he sings in the glorious "Daylight." Again, the theme of individuality is represented as a sacred thing, as related throughout the record.
A particularly beautiful song is "The Reason," which details the life of an artist named Lucy. Through her youth, she shuns the frivolous activities of her peers, choosing instead to concentrate on her drawings, her masterpieces. Later in life, she finds salvation with another artist, a loner like herself; their primary link is through their art, something that only they can understand. As she is on her deathbed, she shows no regret, "you could dream a little dream or you could live a little dream, I’d rather live it, cause dreamers always chase but never get it." she was following her calling all along, living every minute of her life to its creative fullness. The statement is a brilliant strike against the fruitless life that her peers chose to lead, while they were off wasting their lives, spreading rumors of her solitary personality, she was creating works of art. Religious imagery pervades many of the songs, without stealing the spotlight; Rock makes several comparisons between the common man and angels, though these comparisons are fraught with modern imagery "your halo has run out of helium," "they got angels sweating like helots...," "wingless angels...celestial ground is found and broken." Despite the generally grey tone of many of these associations, it’s nice to know though that there is a bit of humanity left, no matter how much the capitalist beast has tried to homogenize us. Aesop makes many such observations with a completely different feel, seemingly traditional but wholly original and ultimately brilliant.
Labor Days is a wonderfully complex piece of work, one which sends us on a journey through New York’s streets and the sewers, into the minds and hearts of it’s inhabitants. It’s beautifully terraced rhythms and effective vocals make for a great listen and its timeless themes will keep bringing you back.
Reviewed by: Tyler Martin
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01