02 February 2007

Busdriver / RoadKillOvercoat / Epitaph [2007]

Two-and-a-half stars

Choice cut: "Go Slow"

A veteran of the L.A. underground hip-hop scene, Busdriver ignores boundaries of modern day hip-hop culture by melding genres and never relenting his lyrical attack to make room for a radio-ready hook. He favors a freewheeling experimentalism, most notably in his motley subject matter including cowgirls, dinosaurs and the Green Party. Ambition allows the rapper to corner a niche market in the abstract hip-hop movement, using his six albums as stepping stones to this pinnacle of the bizarre.

RoadKillOvercoat finds the rapper toeing the novelty line, too often losing his balance and falling to the side of inanity. Preferring unconventional, scattered wordplay to the linear materialism and drug culture saturating commercial rap, his lyrics vary from political to cheeky, and are soaked in a quaint, self-referential cynicism. But Busdriver shoots indictments from the hip such as his likening of a Scientologist to a clansmen. Due to an unrelentingly fast flow, and peppered with staccato fury, Busdriver's voice borders on grating and may leave listeners exhausted, constantly playing catch-up through each verse and digging through silly pop-culture references for any sign of a message.

RoadKillOvercoat's finest moments find Busdriver more subdued, allowing a groove to build between his off-the-wall delivery and the genre-bending production of DJ Nobody and Boom-Bip. The fresh beats combine elements of rock, hip-hop, and electronic music to create a blend all its own.

The experimental "Go Slow,” is complete with a dreamy hook courtesy of CocoRosie's Bianca Casady and displays the album's most successful moment of understated ambition. On the overblown "Kill Your Employer" and "The Troglodyte Wins" sloppy rhymes and exaggerated enunciation exemplify the album's lack of cohesion. To slight an artist striving for uniqueness seems counterintuitive, but even fans of abstract, backpacker hip hop may grow weary of Busdriver's unneeded vocal shifts and an overabundance of vacant references. Busdriver takes the traditionally laid back style of backpack rap and throws in unbridled excitement and forward-thinking production. The album bubbles with potential and laughs in the face of tradition, but ultimately comes up short as a package, and serves to teach the lesson that while risk taking is often rewarded, restraint remains a virtue.

It's online HERE

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