Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Gonna Eat That?Posted by Joe Gustav
Why not? In the cover art for Hail Mary Mallon’s debut LP Are You Gonna Eat That?, the group’s namesake, Typhoid Mary (a cook and healthy carrier of the disease who infected over 50 New Yorkers in the early 1900s), happily spoons out a meal to a robust and healthy individual. In the background a gruesomely dying infectee asks the question of the album’s title. The humor is twofold: the question could be intended to point out the buffoonery of someone accepting a meal while ignoring so much death and suffering, or it could be an honest query requesting sustenance, either out of further ignorance or death-bed apathy — shoot, if you’re already sick and your world is going to end, why not.
Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic, who along with DJ Big Whiz comprise Hail Mary Mallon, delight in such pitch-black humor. As members of now-defunct label Definitive Jux they furthered the brand’s Blade Runner b-boy aesthetic with laser-beam funk and impenetrable rhymes overloaded with metaphors and round-about imagery. Sonic covered more sci-fi territory while Aesop focused on dark, convoluted messages with melody on Bazooka Tooth and None Shall Pass, the latter in particular helping him become an underground hero and cross-over indie favorite. Like fellow Def Jukie El-P, Rock’s rhymes of disorientation and the modern predicament always came with a wink at the end, with some comic nod to make the doomsday speak less overbearing.
Are You Gonna Eat? keeps such wry smiles coming verse after verse, and sometimes the listener can’t help but bear the same expression. It is dense lyrically, even for an Aesop Rock project, but what messages lie within do not matter so much as the imagery depicted and the way those visions are presented. Rock raps on “Smock”: “Out touch faith / Ye drown clutched unto thine floodgate / Peace out cupcake.” Before continuing, Sonic interjects a quick “sup.” It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of humor, but as is typical with these artists’ work, you have to be paying attention to get it.
However, it’s hard to tell if there’s a whole lot to “get” here, and on cuts like “Breakdance Beach” the point is obvious: a frivolous and dumb song about b-boying in the sand, for the sake of being frivolous and dumb. The song’s grating nature is acknowledged in the concluding sample of a child singing, “boring, boring, boring.” Still, the very next song, “Table Talk,” is anything but, as is most of Sonic and Rock’s production on the album: the beats are as layered as the lyrics, incorporating several tracks of live instrumentation, video game blips, and Big Whiz’s scratches en lieu of proper choruses.
In a recent MTV Hive interview, Aesop Rock said that Are You Gonna Eat That? was created by “me and Rob just sitting in this apartment in San Francisco together.” His and Sonic’s verses are best understood as conversations held in a language only they understand, a sentiment furthered by the video for “Garfield.” Huddled around a campfire in a post-apocalyptic setting straight out of The Road, the emcees go back and forth concocting a plan that makes perfect sense only to themselves. For everyone else, it is an odd but entertaining exercise in one-upmanship. Like an infamous cook who assumed the alias of Mary Brown to continue her preferred work after the stipulations of her first release from quarantine forbid it, Hail Mary Mallon is more of the same under a different name. What they serve up is much more delectable, though not terribly filling.