Aloe Vera looks back, begins to heal with ‘Days Pass Strange’
With previous release Opaque, from 2021, rapper Aloe Vera essentially translated the life they were living at the time directly to tape, which meant that the situations and emotions they were writing about were particularly raw, having left no time for scar tissue to set in.
So, for new album Days Pass Strange, the rapper opted to venture further back in time, circa 2015, emerging with a follow-up that also serves as a prequel, of sorts.
“With Opaque, it was heavy to perform, because it was like, ‘Oh, I just lived this,’” said the Aloe Vera, who will celebrate the album with tonight (Thursday, Dec. 15). “It’s a lot easier to think about some aspects now looking back, because I’m not going around feeling the same things around the same people.”
Aloe Vera said the degree of remove allowed them to view their early 20-something self with more kindness, but also with a clarity that comes with time. “It’s like, ahh, you was messing up,” they said, and laughed. “But really, I was like 23, grocery shopping mostly for Gushers or whatever. I was making choices I probably shouldn’t.”
Regardless of the chronological distance between living the tracks and putting them to tape, the rapper's new album still feels impossibly close to the skin. This remains true whether Aloe Vera is exorcising their anger over the difficulty of scraping together rent (“Demarcus Cain Needs Money,” on which they jokingly fret over not being able to pay the bills off of an open mic feature) or breaking down and rapping through tears on the emotionally shattered “Live for Me." Collectively, what emerges is a beautifully rendered portrait of someone threatening to fall apart at the seams but managing to hold firm.
“I wanted this clear through line where it’s like, unchecked trauma leads to you losing the things you really care about and love,” Aloe Vera said. “I look back at who I was, and I was just a really angry kid without a lot of nurturing energy or fostering energy to help me move forward. … There’s that air of ‘I could have done better, and I should have done better, but I didn’t know.’”
The emotional clutter of this more damaged era is matched by the dense, sometimes chaotic beats, which arrive courtesy New York City-based producer Steel Tipped Dove (billy woods, Armand Hammer). “The Psych Ward Cost 6 Months of Rent,” for instance, builds around loping drums and sporadic bleats of brass, unfolding like a second line parade weaving through the Upside Down of “Stranger Things.” “Moradian Messages,” in turn, manages to sound both patient and menacing, the beat capturing the sensation of pushing up against an anxiety attack and then riding that line.
Aloe Vera said, Days Pass Strange will combine with Opaque and their next, still-to-be-completed album in a trilogy that chronicles their redemption arc. “It’s about coming back to myself,” they said. This idea reflects the rapper’s lived experience these last five years. Aloe Vera said they stepped away from music in 2017 because they felt like they didn’t “have a good foundation of who I was as a person.”
“At the end of 2017, I realized I was someone I didn’t particularly like, wouldn’t have been friends with, and wouldn’t even have been particularly cool with,” they continued. “So, I took a break, just straight up, trying to at least hold some space for the fact that I wasn’t too fond of myself. ... And then I really tried to lay the groundwork to heal what I needed to heal, to start repairing familial relationships, interpersonal relationships, extended relationships."
While aspects of Days Pass Strange are fictionalized, the emotions contained within aren’t. Recording “Live for Me,” for example, Aloe Vera centered their thoughts on an actual relationship from their past, even as their words relay a loosely imagined scenario.
“That song is really drenched in the themes of ‘Rent’ and ‘Passing Strange,’” Aloe Vera said of the musicals that served as structural backbones while creating the album. “Were I really to speak about [the events] that inspired that song, I would be unable to perform it, actually. I remember when I wrote that song I teared up, and I very vividly pictured the person it was about in my head, and it was like, dang, I’m glad I’m getting better. I’m not doing the same things I used to do emotionally back then."
The album closes with the title track, on which Aloe Vera repeats the same refrain dozens of times: “Every day a blessing/Every breath a threat.”
As they recite the line, it takes on different cadences, the rapper experimenting with tone and timbre, drawing out new shades of meaning.
“On the last track, [the phrase] evolves from a naive belief to a loosely held mantra to a straight up creed,” Aloe Vera said of the line, which is scattered throughout the album, delivered the first time by a friend who speaks the words in German. “It’s like, this is what I have to hold onto just to get through for right now. I have to take this thing that has hurt me and turn it into something that can heal me. … And I’m glad that I’m healing, and that I’m continuing to heal.”