Imagine the puzzled look on the faces of record store workers around the country when they received the ambiguous fifth album from underground weirdo-rapper Busdriver.
The album, “RoadKillOvercoat,” shifts genres on each track, making it hard to categorize the album in a world where formulaic music, especially in pop and rap, is a popular and easy way to make millions. Even on the Internet, where distinctions and boundaries are supposed to blur and crumble, MySpace bands are neatly sorted into such categories as “punk,” “indie,” “folk rock” and “rap.”
Busdriver, who stretched the definition of hip-hop on his last album, “Fear of a Black Tangent,” again pushes the boundaries and forces the question: Is this really hip-hop?
Perhaps the unfortunate souls assigned to categorize “RoadKill” started in the hip-hop section, Busdriver’s traditional classification. The album does grasp at remnants of beats and rhymes, with Busdriver rapping so fast at times the lyrics seem to spew out his nose. He also gets help from hip-hoppers Boom-Bip, Nobody and Daddy Kev, who all produce beats that draw from a wide variety of influences, like country guitar twangs and computer noises.
It makes Busdriver’s frantic rap regurgitations and widely varying beats hard to justify filing between Big Daddy Kane and Cam’ron. “RoadKillOvercoat” features such a variety of music that it comes off sounding more like a hipster’s mix tape than one coherent album.
Maybe these unlucky employees will next try slotting it in the techno section, since the first single from “RoadKill” is the trunk-rattling “Kill Your Employer (Recreational Paranoia is the Sport of Now).” This track features a demonic robot version of the generally good-natured rapper chanting “Buy now. Buy now.” With its dangerously catchy chorus instructing fans to kill their bosses over a heavy, house-like beat, it feels more like it should be blasted at some rave than on The Current.
Busdriver even breaks it down in true techno fashion during the song, where a whole bag of sounds are thrown together to somehow make a coherently chaotic rhythm, over which the rapper says, “I don’t join the ranks of ordinary men/ I burn flags not, oil reserves/ I’m no ex-football player Iraqi combatant/ Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to/ It’s me fucker, it’s me.”
It’s good, but “Kill Your Employer” doesn’t sound like anything else on the album, making it hardly representative of the whole.
What is Busdriver’s sound, these panicking filers wonder? It is floating somewhere in the aisle between pop, rock, indie, folk, techno and rap.
Busdriver could be considered a strange love child of acoustic-alternative folk rock and ’90s underground hip-hop, especially on the album’s closing track, “Dream Catcher’s Mitt.”
This song features a slower tempo, chilled-out instruments and a rapper who finally took his Ritalin.
“Go Slow” is another track where Busdriver comes off as a meeting between hip-hop and indie. The song features the haunting Bianca Casady of CocoRosie. Casady’s voice causes goose bumps and Busdriver sounds like the Cheshire cat in space, floating through the melody. Like the cat, he creates images with his lyrics, like, “Cool those worn hooves/ Go slow, face your death/ Walk into the fiery orange woods.”
Busdriver, like his lyrics, is nowhere and everywhere at once, and “RoadKillOvercoat” is his best attempt yet at illustrating this phenomenon.
His lyrics, the one thing that binds each random musing on the album together, are always sharp, observant and witty. His deep and goofy voice fits perfectly with lyrics that don’t make literal sense, but work figuratively – such as on “Dream Catcher’s Mitt”: “And I am just a crude outline/ Obscured and pegged and numbered/ Dangling from power lines.”
However, as much as Busdriver would like to pretend that he is easy to figure out, he is not as simply categorized as he jokes. Somewhere at the intersection of today’s popular genres is “RoadKillOvercoat,” a square peg in an overly compartmentalized industry.