Ross Birchard, a.k.a. Hudson Mohawke, essentially dares the listener to take on his music. If the name, conjuring Bruce Willis’ most cringe-worthy film, doesn’t rub one the wrong way, the neon-vomit wildlife photoshop job on his new album Butter most likely will. Oh, and if you think the front is bad, the green hippo mouth on the back is much less appetizing. But, goofily tacky as this all may appear, it’s an oddly fitting representation of the schizophrenic, ’80s worshipping hip-hop that Birchard crafts. Like Prefuse 73 with Cocoa Puffs in his hard drive, or Flying Lotus soundtracking CandyLand rather than Los Angeles, Hudson Mohawke makes instrumental hip-hop for bobbleheads.
None of this is to say that Butter is a bad album, of course. In fact, it’s quite inspired, and for that matter, unique. For Birchard, however, unique can often mean bizarre, confusing or just plain silly. The weird voice patches and sputtering beats in “Fruit Touch,” the glurping rhythmic A.D.D. in “Trykk,” the cartoon G-Funk of “Joy Fantastic”—it all adds up to an album that threatens to outdo Dan Deacon for sheer absurdity. Yet, there’s a chill undercurrent to Hudson Mohawke’s freak beat that makes his brand of goofball grandeur much more rewarding over the course of an album. “Zoo00OOm” throbs and bleeps with a darker sound than many of the day-glo compositions that precede it, while “Rising 5” makes a stunning splash of twinkling effects, throwback synths and drums that provide exclamation points with every pop. “No One Could Ever” is an exciting enough burst of keyboard sheen and snapping snare that it practically deserves a Jay-Z, Kanye or Lupe verse on top of it. And “Tell Me What You Want From Me,” a collaboration with Dâm-Funk, is a delicious slab of bizarro soul.
With 18 tracks, it’s very easy for music of this ilk to wear out its welcome, and for something that’s so frequently exhilarating and fun, Butter sort of overdoes it. For every transcendent production like the sublime “FUSE,” there’s a “Twistclip Loop” that never quite reaches its potential. Hudson Mohawke is a talented cat, and Butter has evidence of that in spades. Were he to allow his sugar-coated concoctions to simmer just a bit longer, however, he could potentially turn the initial “wow” factor of his compositions into an extended sensation of awe.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.