When Nintendo first released its now timeless video game “Super Mario Brothers” way back in the 1980s, that game and its soundtrack were groundbreaking. In the decades since its release, they have become timeless. At the same time, so much has changed about the connection between video games and their soundtracks. Largely gone are the midi files that made up soundtracks for the games and in their places are songs from some of the most well-known recording artists in the industry. From racing games, to fighting games and more, video games and the music industry have become increasingly entwined with one another. Aesop Rock’s latest album Freedom Finger (Music From The Game) shows just how connected music and video games have become throughout the decades. Aesop Rock’s new album is in fact a collection of songs that he crafted for the video game, which is available through the Nintendo Switch. The record is labeled an album despite only boasting three new full-length songs, which are themselves accompanied by an instrumental of each composition. This is both a positive and a negative for this presentation, and will be discussed here. The four other original instrumentals that accompany the three original full-length songs are positives and negatives in their own right, and will also be addressed here. Keeping all of this in mind, the album proves itself worth at least one listen, but is hardly the year’s top new rap/hip-hop record.
Aesop Rock’s latest album Freedom Finger (Music From The Game) is an intriguing new offering from the veteran rap artist, who has been making beats and rhymes for more than 25 years. That is because it is a record who musical content all comes from the soundtrack of a video game. Clocking in at a brief 23 minutes, the 10-track record features only three brand new full-length songs, which serve as the record’s first, second and third songs respectively. The songs are actually engaging and entertaining thanks to their combined musical and lyrical content. ‘Play Dead,’ which opens the record immediately lends itself to works from the likes of Busta Rhymes thanks to the beats and Aesop Rock’s own vocal delivery style and sound. The infectious beats and electronics incorporated into the song add to the composition’s entertainment. Aesop Rock (a.k.a. Ian Bavitz) presents lyrical content along with that musical content that is engaging and entertaining in its own right. He even goes so far as to make a direct mention of the game in one verse, stating, “Fuel up and I steamroll/You better moonwalk when that screen scroll/I feed castaways/To these gamma rays/And my handshake is all sleeper hold/Ease in and get heave-hoed/With no easy mode and no foul play/Bounty hunters get found out/Power up or get outpaced.” The mentions of the power up, the easy mode and screen scroll are clearly all direct references to the game, in which the song is featured. The rest of the song’s two verses come across as a commentary of sorts, and that, coupled with the aforementioned musical arrangement, makes this song a strong start for the record.
‘KOWP’ maintains the engagement and entertainment established through the record’s opener. The song’s musical arrangement is another old school hip-hop style work complete with sampling, scratches and pure, infectious beats. Those elements are complimented through Bavitz’s vocal delivery style, making the song’s musical element that much more enjoyable. The song’s lyrical content adds its own interest to the work, with Bavitz presenting what can be essentially considered one of those braggadocious works that finds the rapper pumping his chest so to speak. That’s evident in all three of the song’s verses. It’s not exactly what one might consider memorable, but is still enjoyable with the occasional listen.
‘Drums on the Wheel’ is the last of the album’s full-length original songs, and is another entertaining work in its own right thanks to its musical arrangement. It takes some old school rap and hip-hop elements and mixes them with more modern elements to make the whole its own infectious beat heavy work that audiences are sure to enjoy. One can only assume in listening through the lyrics that they are directly connected to the game rather than being anything substantive. Either way, the delivery of the lyrics and the very layout of said lyrics makes for its own share of interest. Simply put, it’s something that audiences have to hear for themselves in order to appreciate.
Now once these three songs are done, the album repeats the songs in exact order, except sans lyrics. All three songs’ arrangements are presented following their full-length presentations. The arrangements are enjoyable in their own right, but the problem here is that they are just that, instrumentals. Considering copyright laws, etc. their only use is for listening. That is unless some other artist out there wants to legally sample them by paying royalties. In other words, the instrumentals that accompany the record’s only three full-length originals are essentially just an extra. Such works are typically saved as extras for singles, so to that end, it makes this record seem that much more like it was just released for the sake of fulfilling contractual obligations. Keeping this in mind, it would have made more sense for Aesop Rock to just release this as an EP instead of trying to call it an album, when there is so little original material.
While the lack of extensive full-length content is clearly a detriment to the record’s presentation, it doesn’t make the album a presentation not worth hearing. There are four other original instrumentals featured along with the three full-length instrumentals in the form of ‘Rat Skull,’ ‘Snowmobile,’ ‘Twice Fried’ and ‘Frozen Caveman.’ These original works are interesting in their own right, and add a little bit of engagement and entertainment to the record. Each work features its own unique, infectious, modern arrangement. ‘Snowmobile’ for instance is a keyboard-driven work whose beats compliment it well. ‘Twice Fried’ meanwhile is more melodic in its approach. ‘Frozen Cavement features its own unique old/new school hybrid sound and ‘Rat Skull’ boasts a bit of a rock approach with its hip-hop element. All four arrangements, again, are unique in their own way, and serve as starting points for those who want to legally do sampling, but are worth little else, considering that none of the works even breaks the 30 second mark. Each arrangement is so brief that it seems like it begins and ends in the blink of an eye. If the arrangements had been longer, maybe they would have been more engaging, but being so short, they just don’t really do much, if anything, to enhance the listening experience. Keeping this in mind, these original instrumentals are entertaining, but aren’t at the same time. To that end, these extremely brief arrangements are entertaining, but add little at best entertainment value to this recording. What this means is that these arrangements, when considered with the original full-length songs, make Aesop Rock’s new album worth at least an occasional listen at best.
Aesop Rock’s new album Freedom Finger (Music From The Game) is an intriguing new offering from the veteran rap artist. That is because despite being called an album, it really only presents three original full-length songs. The four very brief instrumentals that round out the record’s second half barely even add up to the length of a regular-length song. They are at least a little engaging and entertaining, despite being so brief. The problem is that being instrumentals and so brief, they are useful for little more than listening unless someone is willing to pay the royalties to use them for sampling. The same applies for the instrumentals that accompany the original full-length songs also featured in the record. All things considered, Freedom Finger (Music From The Game) proves to be entertaining, but sadly leaves one wanting for far more in the worst possible way. To that end, it is enjoyable, but is anything but the year’s best new hip-hop/rap album. More information on Aesop Rock’s new album is available along with all of his latest news at:
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