Ghost Stories for Adults: Aesop Rock's The Impossible Kid

According to a 2014 analysis conducted by data scientist Matt Daniels for Polygraph, the largest vocabulary in hip-hop belongs to Ian Bavitz, aka Aesop Rock, who had used 7,392 unique words in his song catalogue up to that point, more than a thousand more than the next-highest artist in the analysis. As is often the case with a great author, none of those words are wasted, and each one serves to enhance the quality of the work in question. Bavitz's latest record, 2016's The Impossible Kid, sounds like it upped the unique-word count by a few dozen, weaving together dark stories like a horror or noir anthology. The album is Aesop's seventh solo effort after some noteworthy collaborative projects like Hail Mary Mallon and The Uncluded, the latter with Kimya Dawson. Aesop Rock melds his aesthetic with those of his creative partners to make something powerful and new.

“I used to do a lot of one-off collabs, features, stuff like that,” says Bavitz about his earlier collaborations. “I still do sometimes. But I've found it really comforting in recent years to do more of these full-project collaborations. I feel like a lot of times, when making a one-song collab with someone, it's easy for one person to not be fully invested. I guess you'd call that 'mailing it in.' But when you say 'This is our album,' then all parties have a reason to make it as good as possible, and the goal becomes seeing what we can do together as a unit. What do we bring to the table that I don't. I find it way more rewarding, and a needed break from the somewhat grueling solo-album process.”

To promote the release of Hail Mary Mallon's 2014 album Bestiary, the label requested a video to stream, and the video that Aesop Rock offered was footage of an old Donkey Kong game. But for The Impossible Kid, Aesop Rock worked with Rob Shaw to create something truly unique: a shot-by-shot remake of The Shining using small toy figurines.

“Basically my label likes these full-stream videos to put up,” explains Bavitz. “It's hard to come up with fifty minutes of content, so we always try to think of creative ways to do so. But there's also never much time. It's always like, 'We need [fifty minutes] by next week.' Basically, Rob Shaw pitched the idea of remaking a movie. I basically said, 'Man...that seems completely amazing, but totally impossible.' That said, if you wanna go for it, I'm not gonna stop you.' We chopped it up about what movies could work, and I threw out The Shining. It's super-iconic and deals with isolation and things of that nature. Rob basically said, 'Let's do it.' He made the whole thing by himself in about seven days. Insane.”

Since the promo film depicts a classic horror movie, it's only fitting that the album art itself, featuring an image designed by Alex Pardee, is like a cross between a Goosebumps book and a horror comic (like the Coffin Hill series from Vertigo, for example).

“I had lived out in the woods for a year during the initial writing of some of this stuff,” reveals Bavitz. “The woods [are] like that — peaceful, beautiful trees and wildlife, solitude, but at the same time, it gets dark, [with] odd noises. Wildlife that can be equal parts comforting and threatening. I dunno — I kinda like that. I like feeling warm inside a small home, knowing there's a set of glowing eyes out in the woods somewhere. It's just a vibe I enjoy writing about, and it deals simultaneously with safety and danger.”

Aesop Rock with Rob Sonic, DJ Zone, Homeboy Sandman and guests on Monday, May 23, Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom, 303-297-1772.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.