Listening to an album can be like entering into an alternate world, the product of an artist’s distinctive vision. That world is one which we can recognize at times, but often it is unfamiliar; it is composed out of experiences which we can likely relate to as human beings, but as experienced by someone else. The material with which it is constructed may be of our world, but the perspective is skewed from our own, providing us with the opportunity for vicarious living of a particular variety. Listening to Roadkillovercoat, the newest offering from Los Angeles’ Busdriver, is more like entering into three different worlds—the idiosyncratic verbal world produced by his bombastic rhymes and brash delivery; the varied sonic-soundscape provided by DJ Nobody and Boom-Bip; and the world created where these two meet.
From the deadly serious to the unabashedly silly, anything is fair game when it comes to Busdriver’s lyrics. While embodying the worldview of a self-conscious leftist, one decidedly tired of the vain rhetoric of ineffectual “liberals,” he does not back away from critiquing the current disasters perpetrated by their opposition. However, such lofty concerns are always buttressed by his peculiarly absurd observational commentary. In reality, all of his references go by in a flash, the listener able to take in only fragments, though from these he is able to, to some degree, map the general outline of the territory being covered. Noam Chomsky collides with camera-shy giant pandas, innocuous yes-men and art school (“a shark pool of well-groomed yuppie scum…they’re wack as hell“).
While line one connects to line two, what connects those in the first verse to those in the last can seem emphatically esoteric. Further, the often cryptic choruses both focus and distort each track. But in this way, Busdriver is able to incorporate a remarkable amount of modern American experience into his music.
“The Troglodyte Wins” is probably Roadkillovercoat‘s most catchy track and, appropriately, it possesses some of the album’s most puzzling lyrics. “I’m a quadruped pulling a dogsled,” rhymes Busdriver, just after a thought on what would make his indie-cred sore and just before those giant pandas make their first appearance, like massive cartoon creatures stepping out onto the stage at a political rally. Another brilliant, if not fully decipherable, turn comes at the beginning of the second verse: “Your retro hair is gonna blow up/ cause gay is the new black/ and when you stray a lay won’t take you back.” Underpinned by a thumping bass beat and an irresistible hook, the track makes evident what is most accessible, as well as what is most eccentric, about Busdriver.
The production on the album—as mentioned, courtesy of DJ Nobody and Boom Bip—is extremely varied, unafraid to borrow from indie-rock, a broad swath of electronic music and mainstream rap. It is anything but another innocuous underground hip-hop album, adherent to a narrow, inflexible foundation. “Sun Shower” flashes a distinctly new-wave influence and features Busdriver inhabiting the roll of crooning front man, evincing some of influences such as Blonde Redhead and Broadcast, or Islands, whose members he collaborated with in the past. “(Bloody Paw on the) Killfloor” ends up being the album’s most ominous, disconcerting track after shifting away from a nondescript, seemingly harmless beginning. “Casting Agents and Cowgirls” and “Kill Your Employer (Recreational Paranoia is the Sport of New)” are bangers, sure to get bodies gyrating and mouths moving in semi-conscious enunciation of each respective chorus. Busdriver covers a lot of ground on this album and, miraculously really, it never loses the feeling of a cohesive whole.
Right now Busdriver is probably working on new material, touring (with Deerhoof!), and at the same time absorbing an inordinate amount of the world around him which he will surely regurgitate in a fashion which departs from Roadkillovercoat. He seems to be the type of artist that does not like to stand still, who doesn’t know how and doesn’t care to learn. His fans are a varied group, unified by what he has called the “grassroots, off-kilter, rap intelligentsia…undertow that your friends talk about.” I recommend you strap on your water-wings and jump in.
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