Record Reviews: Aesop Rock and 4Hero

{mosimage}AESOP ROCK | All Day: Nike + Original Run | Available through iTunes

Aesop Rock, personal trainer? Believe it. That’s the unlikely scenario proffered by All Day: Nike + Original Run, a 45-minute continuous track produced by the indie-rap enigma Aesop Rock, designed specifically for runners to trance out to on the road or treadmill.

Obviously, the only way to really surmise the album’s effectiveness is to put it to the test. And so I drag my sorry ass to Bally’s Total Fitness in Hollywood — the perpetually overpopulated gym that feels more like a sweaty mall for a colorful cross section of underclothed Angelenos. When I finally elbow my way onto an elliptical machine, I cue up the disc and start running (ellipticizing?).

The sound of someone running on gravel — much faster than me — pans left to right in the headphones over trippy, backward intonations remi­niscent of Madlib. Aesop Rock’s inimitable drawl loops into a hypnotic mantra. An insistent, thudding beat propels me to pick up the pace. About eight minutes in, a funky organ kick-starts under a flurry of turntable scratches. Ooh, a grimy rock guitar line. Very Iron Butterfly. Okay, I’m sweating now. The mix is flowing effortlessly, evolv­ing from a Funkadelic acid groove to a spacy electro-jam. A glistening, heavily tattooed Suicide Girl wannabe saddles up in front of me. I wonder what she’s listening to. Wait, where was I? Oh, yeah — sweating like Bobby Brown to Aesop Rock. Who knew? At this rate, the indie-rap set will definitely be ready for the beach this summer. Thanks, dude.

—Scott T. Sterling

{mosimage}4HERO | Play With the Changes | Milan Records

4hero’s epileptic beats, synth overlays and glimmering strings have always had something of a traditionalist structure: a backbone of musical scholarship and studious attention to detail beneath experimental genre-foraging. That’s allowed the venerated U.K. duo (Dennis “Dego” McFarlane and Mark “Mark Mac” Clair) to be both club-kid darlings (“Hold It Down,” from 2001’s Creating Patterns CD) and music-critic favorites. On their new CD, Play With the Changes, their DJ-based fusion of electronica, hip-hop and jazz is puréed into a mellow brew, harking back to ’70s-style smooth jazz. There are still their trademarked stuttering drum patterns here and there (notably on “Bed of Roses,” featuring Jody Watley), but this is no longer music that requires a seat belt for the bracing shifts of its aural landscapes. You sink com­fortably into these. (The duo now bear more than a passing resemblance to In­cog­nito; that’s praise.) Not that everything works: The cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Super­woman” hews too closely to the original and is utterly pointless. On the upside, McFarlane and Clair continue their trademarked fruitful collaborations with strong women: In addition to Watley, there’s Jack Davey, Carina Andersson and frequent 4hero cohort Ursula Rucker (whose true-to-political-form spoken-word track, “Awakening,” is a highlight). Still, the best track is the instrumental “Sophia,” which has the sinewy sweep of Barry White’s best compositions. It’s a too-short jam, limber but focused, beautifully driven by strings that breeze over a glistening high-hat and horns. You just want it to go on and on.

—Ernest Hardy


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