WASHINGTON, June 26, 2013 —About halfway through the recent Uncluded show at the 9:30 Club, the band’s two primary members, Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson, commented how they were afraid their two respective and incredibly disparate audiences—rap and acoustic—wouldn’t mix. Much like cold water and molasses in a glass, the situation might have seemed akin to a middle-school dance where the boys and girls are terrified to dance with one another other. That’s certainly something that could have submarined Uncluded’s show to a certain extent. But in hindsight, it’s something that neither artist should have been particularly worried about here.
It’s obvious why Rock and Dawson voiced their concern. On the surface the two of them come from different worlds. The worlds of rap – alternative or otherwise – and acoustic singer/songwriting don’t seem like a logical or even a useful mix. In most cases that would probably be true. But there doesn’t seem to be a better combination than Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson to bring these two genres crashing together in a kind of friendly mayhem.
Part of the reason why this collaboration works is that neither artist is a definitive example of either genre. Dawson’s quirky sensibilities are still clearly within the recognizable boundaries of the singer/songwriter community. But the way she approaches her material often doesn’t seem to have a precedent. Rock has carved out a distinctive place among rappers, taking a unique approach toward his rhymes than is normally the case in this genre. This intersection of individuality is where the two artists become oddly simpatico. The unique sensibilities that make them distinctive within their own musical spheres are actually why they so easily mesh when playing together.
What the audience gets when listening to the Uncluded is an off-the-cuff type of sound. The content of each of their songs – especially the lyrical content – often erupts in a take-no-prisoners manner, particularly when they sing/rap about subjects that might be taboo or uncomfortable. What this means for Uncluded is that they can joyfully blast through topics that come off as quite inane, while at the same time imbued with a weird sense of purpose.
For example, whether this duo is singing about their personal choice of snacks, or their preference for a specific kind of superhero, or what happened during an earthquake, their two entirely different approaches result in odd, startling and unusual observations and details.
Even though their approaches are obviously different, they both have a seemingly matter-of-fact method to their delivery. The resulting impression often seems like the artists are intentionally attempting to create with each song an impression not unlike those old school yard rhymes where multiple kids are encouraged to join in the chorus as they good-naturedly (usually) tease or kid a fellow classmate.
The style, attitude and approach of Uncluded’s set were also influenced by the newness of this duo. Aside from a few one-off performances, this appearance at the 9:30 Club was their very first show as part of an official tour. The two were obviously nervous performing these songs so soon after their creation, having really not much of a feel for how the material would go over with a live audience. But that nervousness actually ended up fueling the energy of the set. Each song possessed a stream of conscious vibe, which actually made it seem as if the duo were making things up on the spot, even though they obviously weren’t.
Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson asked the audience on several occasions to bear with them as they worked through these songs. But they really needn’t have worried. Their professionalism, plus the deft assist provided by their manager/touring musician James Lynch, shone brightly all through the night. Both performers have been at this long enough individually that everything went off without a hitch in spite of their professed nervousness.
Uncluded’s material had clearly been rehearsed beforehand. Yet they proved able to make it sound fresh enough that each song seemed spontaneous. It’s that kind of attitude that makes them worth seeing on this tour, even if this might end up as their only collaboration.
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