Album: Perfect Hair
Record label: Big Dada
Release Date: 5th September 2014
Veteran avant-garde MC offers up a healthy dosage of emotion, societal critique and satire on his 10th LP
It seems that the age of the Hip-Hop collective is mustering its forces and preparing for a coup d'etat once again. The past 5 years have bestowed upon us varying levels of attention grabbing communal groups via the likes of the A$AP Mob, Black Hippie (Ab Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock) as well as the Beast Coast movement (comprimising of the Joey Bada$$ featuring Pro Era as well as groups like The Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies). In the more conspicuous but just as worthy climbs of the underground sit The Hell-Fyre club; A group of self-proclaimed backpackers who revel in nothing less than their own sharp-witted, self-conscious nerdy-ness. For avant-garde Rap veteran Busdriver to be named as part of this collective (which also features heavy indie-rap hitters Milo and Open Mike Eagle, amongst others) despite having a good decade of records beneath his belt may have ran the risk of seeming like a re-invention gimmick, but one thing proven by his 10th full-length LP "Perfect Hair" in abundance is that he deserves his title as an artful maverick perhaps more than anyone else.
There's a strict binary aesthetic that underpins the Hell-Fyre Club, perhaps more so than in any of the aforementioned groups. An intense knowledge of wordplay and lyrical structure, as well self-deprecation, emotional substance, hilarious (sometimes deliberately cringeworthy) punchlines and a great big dollop of acute self-awareness to top it all off. It was more or less a blueprint laid down by Busdriver on his seminal 2002 album "Temporary Fever", and the oddness and intellect that has informed most of observations is in rude health 12 years later on "Perfect Hair".
Throughout the album, whether produced by Busdriver (as most of the tracks are) or not, the instrumentals are twisted, layered and bottomless, leaving plenty of room for interest whilst not distracting from the MCs lyrical abode. Occasionally Busdriver's ruminations are inaccessible to the point of over-indulgence almost, but, as with the best work of rappers like EL-P and GZA, scraping beneath the surface offers the highest reward. 'Retirement Ode' begins by offering up a large dose of hilarious irony, as Busdriver intones in a reverential stance "the shit used during the 7 days in which "Perfect Hair" was recorded cost approximately everything". The rest of the song runs the line of schizophrenic balance between self-deprecation and humourous braggadocia, his enthusiasm drenched flow punching the ear drums like a fog horn. "My clothes are dirty, and I'm over 30... it's about time we admitted how sick this has become", he notions ambiguously.
'Bliss Point' indulges in a gorgeously layered electronic bubble which sits over a driving but suitably un-distracting 2-step patter, with a lovely trumpet inflection that joins the foray later. His half-sung observations are wry middle fingers swung at the insidious and tabloid-friendly sojourns of the music media; "Does Hip-Hop really have the body type to pull off that outfit? Who is Hip-Hop dating?".
"Yeah I know what you're saying, but is it sexier than torture?" begins the dark, distorted 6 minutes of 'Ego Death'. Busdriver is on absolutely furious form, his impossibly fast and verbose delivery making the equally as dextrous Aesop Rock (who appears next) pale in comparison. "Sleep and death have always been conjoined twins" he notes dropping a surreptitious Nas reference. The 3rd verse is delivered by Danny Brown, and along with his gambit on Rustie's 'Attak' released earlier this year it's one of the finest verses he's laid down in a while.
"Upsweep" is entirely sung over a reflectively hazy, rising two-tone synth drone. Busdriver's lyrics take a satirically ambiguous note, as he protrudes that he's "bringing Obama-isms to an abrupt ending... I'm being targeted by a jet plane, because I'm so motherfuckin' subversive". There's a general wider street-wise consciousness at play here too as he sings "I can hear you dying just a little bit in the upsweep...". The same biting societal critique continues on to "When The Tooth-Lined Horizon Blinks". Fellow Hell-Fyre Club cohort Open Mike Eagle begins proceedings with a fantastic verse that sees him drop lines like "house party playing twister on the autism spectrum", before Busdriver assaults technological reliability and it's impact on morals as he raps "everybody's getting sentenced to death in the computer lounge".
The heartbroken "Motion Lines" entwines beautiful, morose guitar notes with equally as reflective synth intonations. Busdriver is as passionate and steam-roller-esque as ever in his delivery, but it's his most tender moment on the record. "I'm impossible to love but can I keep an open mind?... You left me getting shredded in your motion lines" he asserts in the chorus before more brutally going on to say "My love feels like a Cervix tear".
Although kooky, Kenny Segal's production on "Eat Rich" is the most accessible moment on the album. Its catchy synth melody is underpinned by a sequence of squelchy, Nintendo Gamecube friendly bass notes and intermittent wooshes of swirling noise. Lyrically it almost reads like a working class manifesto, as Driver delivers the hook "I'm so hungry man I could eat, eat, eat the rich" in purposeful tones.
Like all rappers with an emphasised literary base, Busdriver sometimes becomes too cryptic to be able to listen to some of the songs here just for casual enjoyment. In the context of "Perfect Hair" however, this makes absolute sense. Like all his albums, it's a full piece of conjoined prose, an incomprehensible but fully-formed beast that reveals more with every listen, and launches the kind of aural charge of emotion, political and social awareness and satire of which Bill Hicks would have been most proud.
Key Tracks: 'Bliss Point', 'Upsweep', 'Motion Lines'
For Fans Of: Milo, Open Mike Eagle, Aesop Rock