Although highly conceptual and even tedious at times, this new adventure from Grayskul’s Onry Ozzborn and Portland (Oregon) producer Zavala does not belong in the Emperor’s New Closet with so many comparable alt-rap projects. Rather than a mess of awful noises that sound as if cats were testing fans to see whether they’d embrace naked nonsense, here we get æsthetics that ring somewhere between those of an unapologetically inaccessible Bazooka Tooth–era Aesop Rock (who appears on “Primor”) and the complicated yet melodic work of Chicago rhyme genius Qwel (who drops in with Xperience and Solillaquists of Sound on the show-stealing “Instructions to Numb”).
Whereas tracks on other fringe-hop albums often blend together because nothing jumps out, Vessel stands as a single piece because of its seemingly deliberate operatic structure. There’s suspense (“View Items 2”), confusion (“E.R.”), bliss (“Run”), and even resolution (“All Aboard”). Such appropriate guests as P.O.S. serve a real purpose, and even the unexpected blips and blams that sneak up from behind are tastefully deployed. This is the rare subterranean diamond that could appeal to way more people than will ever hear it.