Busdriver is something of an anomaly in contemporary hip-hop. He is perpetually labeled as, if not "the next big thing", at least "someone to watch out for" by mainstream hip-hop media. And yet he never can quite break out of his underground, intelligent indie rapper niche. Whether this is due to his admittedly strange delivery or his legitimately politically aware lyrics (something openly shunned in main stream hip-hop) or some combination of all of the above is up for debate - I will admit that if I were a DJ on Hot 97 I might have a hard time finding a place for "Kill Your Employer" in between 50 Cent and Lil' John. I'm not going to speculate on whether or not RoadKillOvercoat, the follow up to 2005's superb Fear of a Black Tangent, is going to be the album that catapults Busdriver into regular rotation on MTV2, but I will say that it seems like he's trying.
Tapping the great DJs Boom Bip and Nobody for beats, Busdriver has really pushed himself further than ever before on his new album, branching out into areas he had previously left unexplored. The beats themselves have, for the most part, slowed down considerably and been upped in terms of their complexity and prominence within the song. This results in the loss of some of the manic energy and bare delivery that existed in his previous work, except maybe on the opener "Casting Agents and Cowgirls" and a couple other songs that would have been equally at home on Fear of a Black Tangent. However, it has been replaced with something equally as exciting and interesting. Exactly what that something might be is difficult to say but it's certainly there. It's obvious that Busdriver is out of his comfort zone here but by forcing himself into a new situation and style he has managed to stumble into something very promising. The genius poppy sampling of "The Troglodyte Wins" illustrates this point beautifully and leaves one very curious to see what Busdriver can do once he really settles into this new dynamic.
The lyrics are, as per usual, political in nature and deal openly with issues of race, complacency, and culture. A couple surprises creep up on the listener though. For one, Busdriver seems a bit, if not quite lazy, then certainly much less subtle and nuanced in his lyricism here. He takes easy pot shots at "well-pruned yuppie scum" and "art school kids" in "Sun Shower" and a potpourri of other upper middle class archetypes (SUV drivers, high school football players, cum soldiers in Iraq, etc.). While these are nothing new in terms of subject matter, the way in which he goes about it feels like a dumbing-down of his past work where it was often necessary to listen with a dictionary and a thesaurus on hand. The second surprise is the fact that he is taking shots at his main audience (spoiled art school kids). Could it be that Busdriver is getting frustrated with his limited, homogeneous audience of sheltered art schoolers and is just trying to get his point across without pussyfooting around? Methinks so. All that being said, nearly every chorus on this album is catchy as all hell.
As with any album that deviates from an artist's usual formula, there are a few complete and utter misfires on this album. The first of these is "Go Slow," a creepy, mutated homunculus of an R&B slow jam. Busdriver just pushed a bit too hard on this one. The next unnecessary song is, unfortunately, the last one on the album "Dream Catcher's Mitt." This song features an entirely out of place acoustic guitar, the weakest lyrics on the album and left me wondering if maybe Busdriver has been hanging out with John Darnielle a bit too much. Again it's just an instance of pushing too far. I can appreciate the idea though, I guess. The third song that I am going to mention, "Mr. Mistake (Bested by the Whisper Chasm)", can go one of two ways; either you can see it as Busdriver's attempt at a more intimate, personal song (in which case it hits home pretty well) or you can see it is a less lame limp in to the really lame last song. I personally enjoyed the song. Busdriver lowers his voice to just above a whisper and is really able to connect on a level difficult to reach while spouting off about the injustices of the recording industry. It works well, although I could have done without the mini-psychedelic freak out in the middle.
Although there are certainly songs on RoadKillOvercoat that fall flat on their faces and the album as a whole seems uncomfortable, I don't think that those are necessarily the worst things in the world. I think that if Busdriver can crystallize the best parts of this album and come back next time with a better understanding of his new context, we will really have something special on our hands. Let's hope that the lukewarm response to this latest album doesn't scare him back into trying to rehash his older stuff because, to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes, "man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains it's original dimensions."
7.8 / 10
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