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I’m starting to think that mental masturbation is just an inescapable part of hiphop. While most MCs won’t stop stroking their own platinum-plated egos with fabricated tales of personal wealth and sexual conquest, alt-rappers like Dose One, MC Paul Barnham, and Aesop Rock retreat to the safety of their own weird (often Caucasian) heads. Aesop Rock’s independently released LP Float is almost obscene in its inaccessibility. The chorus on the first and title track says it all: “When everyone around me’s busy drowning, I float.” Aesop’s dryly delivered, verbose tumbling metaphors are so obscure that each song in the table of contents merits its own one-sentence description—and even those don’t seem to make any sense. Still, Float’s moments of poetic clarity keep you listening intently—it’s a challenge. On “6B Panorama,” he describes the view from his window. On the dreary “Basic Cable,” a cynical ode to television, Aesop rhymes, “The doctor is in, the doctor is on/Born a bastard son of static radiance cloned and welcome in every home.” The tracks, crafted primarily by Blockhead, are too often plodding and dull, serving as a barely suitable backdrop for the artist’s musings. Float’s saving grace is that, unlike his New Age contemporaries Barnham and Dose, Aesop apparently lived in the real world long enough to learn basic principles of rhythm and cadence. No matter how many syllables and complex thoughts crowd his lines and threaten to push him off course, Aesop always lands squarely on the beat, if not on the ground. —Neil Drumming