Music Reviews

Busdriver Beaus$Eros

(Fake Four) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Last year, Busdriver released a cover of Animal Collective’s Leaf House as a single – a straight up cover, with no rapping. To be blunt, it was a bit of a trainwreck, but it still intrigued me that he was trying his hand at alt-pop after years stretching the boundaries of rap, by virtue of his sheer weirdness. His quirks are not just the obvious (his flow makes Ol’ Dirty Bastard sound like Chuck D) but it’s in his unconventional structures and lyrics so abstract it’s difficult to make head or tail of him. Busdriver is wired to be weird.

But Beaus$Eros is a departure from straight-up hip-hop, veering more towards a sort of outlandish power pop/hip-hop hybrid. It features Busdriver singing as much as rapping, but thankfully it works much better than that Leaf House cover. The album was produced entirely by Belgian producer Loden, who works less as a standard hip-hop producer whose beats could be taken by any rapper, and more of a co-songwriter with Busdriver – and I feel almost like it’s Loden’s innovations that really make this album so exciting. His beats exude positivity, in spite of the lyrics touching on Busdriver’s own personal breakdown.  For instance, lead track and standout Kiss Me Back To Life mixes synthpop with a propulsive hip-hop beat and an addictive chord progression, as Busdriver harmonises with himself on the awesome line “I’m more than a boyfriend / I’m a mistake to learn from”.

But this is easily the most quotable line on the album; we’re mostly left with his trademark “avantcore” curio-raps. He’s often tagged as “socially conscious hip-hop”, but in recent years it’s becoming increasingly difficult to trace Busdriver’s messages, if such a thing is to be traced at all. It’s odd to be presented with such a politically-charged title as NoBlacksNoJewsNoAsians heading a song with such impenetrable lyrics. I could offer a more discerning reading of Aesop Rock’s verse on bonus track Superhand’s Mantra (Fuck Us All), but it’s been wilfully excluded from the album proper, denying this breath of fresh air from all this obtuseness. Suffice to say that you might well find repeated listening rewarding, with songs like Utilitarian Uses Of Love providing particularly engrossing puzzles – but moreover, there’s a focus on hooks rather than meaning, and there are some killer hooks on this album.

There are misses too, in particular Ass To Mouth, a strange choice for the first hip-hop single on experimental pop/emo label Polyvinyl Records – it’s difficult to get past the fact that an endless repetition of its unfortunate title pretty much constitutes its chorus. And Beaus$Eros overstays its welcome; Here’s To Us sounds like a comfortable closer, (“It’s clear enough / We’re near the cusp / Of an all-encompassing stroke of genius”), but the album runs for a further three (inessential) tracks.

Overall, although I immediately admired this album's originality, it’s a hell of a grower – I only realised how catchy the songs are when I found myself humming Picking Band Names while washing up. More quickly than you’d expect, Busdriver’s quirks become endearing; his cartoonish vocal stretches to reach those high notes become normalised and you begin to appreciate how much heart he puts into his singing. Not that there isn’t a considerable chance you’ll find him one of the most irritating musicians you’ve ever come across – but if you do appreciate bizarre vocalists, he’ll appeal whether you’re a fan of Cocorosie (whose Sierra Cassidy features on Electric Blue), or Danny Brown, or Cardiacs, or Björk. And how often could those four artists appear in the same sentence?