kimya dawson & aesop rock team up for the uncluded. their debut ‘hokey fright’ is damn near transcendent. #soundcheck

May 13, 2013

There are some collaborations that seem like they’d make perfect sense on paper, and yet somehow fail to work. (I remember being so excited when I first heard that one of the 90’s greatest singers – Chris Cornell – would be teaming up with the 90’s greatest rhythm section – Rage Against the Machine – for what turned out to be the 2000’s most meh band. No matter how good they may taste separately, nobody wants a peanut butter and goat cheese sandwich.) Then there are other collaborations that seem insane on paper but then work magnificently (wait, Del the Funky Homosapien and Damon from Blur? The “woohoo song” band? And they’re also cartoon monkeys? Gorillaz is never gonna work.) I admit thinking that an album length collaboration between Kimya Dawson and Aesop Rock was going to be the first kind. I was wrong. The Uncluded is badass.

Part of it stems just from how much fun the duo seems to be having. The band grew out of a few feature spots each artist has done on the others’ records recently and it’s clear that despite their stylistic differences they both deeply enjoy collaborating. It’s the 70’s game show theory. There’s always something awesome about watching incredibly talented people just have fun together. But as much fun as it often is, it would be a mistake to gloss over The Uncluded’s debut Hokey Fright‘s depth and intelligence.

The record has strong themes about growing up and the ways a child’s perception of the world differs from an adults’. The awe and terror of the world as a child vs. the awe and terror of the world as an adult may feel similar but they are pretty far removed. Songs like “Organs” and “Bats” explore cycles of death and rebirth and modern mourning rituals. While “Delicate Cycle” and “Teleprompters” are rare hip-hop songs about social anxiety and insecurity. They may seem jarring next to goof-off tracks like “Tits Up” and “Sandwiches” but both Kimya and Aesop are beloved for their ability to find absurdist humor in darkness as well as their gifts for the stealthily profound non-sequitor.

The tracks that work the best are the ones that find Aesop and Kimya playing off each other (seriously I never would have thought I’d love a song called “Tits Up” as much as I do.). They’re less successful when Kimya merely provides the hook to Aesop’s verses. We’ve heard that before. Fortunately even the least exciting tracks on Hokey Fright still prompt a base response of “this is pretty rad.” It’s just that when the undeniable chemistry and play between Kimya Dawson and Aesop Rock is on full display The Uncluded aren’t simply “pretty rad.” They’re damn near transcendent.

– Words by Nathan Leigh