Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Busdriver - Perfect Hair Review

Everyone whose ever attempted the task of deciphering, or even just enjoying Busdriver's music would tell you that he's an acquired taste, one that requires endurance to the untrained ears of Hip-Hop purists. What many forgo however is the fact that artists like Busdriver continue to allow Hip-Hop to survive and thrive, for if the mainstream fails to intrigue a listener, there's always a quick-tongued, verb-heavy savant toying with abstract concepts through dense rhymes and unnatural sound structures. Perfect Hair, his 8th studio album, continues this trend, with Regan Farquhar further solidifying himself as the prominent speaker of eccentric rap lyricism, a fade long since passed in rap's underground. In fact, this might be the greatest example of his craft, a clear evolution of talents, with improvements coming in the way of memorable choruses and consistently loopy production, both conjured up by Driver himself. The zany chords, thesaurus-esque terms, and vocal ineptitude that the L.A. rapper is known for are ever so present, but here, unlike any of his previous releases, is a self-awareness, a look past the clumsy exterior to the heart of Perfect Hair, a record that shelters Farquhar's inner-turmoil, masking it through his idiosyncratic style. 

This self-awareness is instantly noticeable on opener 'Retirement Ode', a track that is itself strictly talking about the creation of Perfect Hair, down to the funds it took to compose it. Above it all he proudly remarks "And so you'll never admit how sick I've become" as it gleams over the chorus, for the first time talking about himself. Busdriver has stated on his Twitter that the song is about doubt, presumably about others accepting his music. During this song-by-song breakdown Busdriver made mention that the entirety of Perfect Hair was suppose to revolve around the inequality found at the heart of the rich, with the classic idiom us vs. them used as a rallying cry for the record's foundation. The expansion of this concept clearly eluded to Driver himself, a reflective piece where perfect hair was used as a scapegoat, a thing he wasn't and didn't wish to aspire too. Never before has Busdriver been so focused on himself, from his troubled relationships with women expecting to much of him ("she thought I was better when I was, less me"), to his self-depreciating lyrics ("I'm looking like a dope addict, cause I'm a depressive shit"). It's not that these topics in Hip-Hop haven't been beaten to death or so earnestly discussed, it's that a rapper whose been so keen on detaching himself from his life through his rap game caricature is starting to unravel at the seams. 

What this leads to is a beautiful battle between Busdriver and Regan Farquhar; the former attempting to maintain the typecast that got him semi-famous, the latter willing to tear down the curtain that holds the veil of anonymity. This becomes obvious under repeated listens as the opening lines to Perfect Hair hold the content's true summary, "Hi I'm Regan, I don't rap for free." It's an introduction of sorts to a reformed artist. Even the cover alludes to this, showing (what I presume is) a self-portrait of a fractured Busdriver, one whose face remains shown despite the brain being absent, all attached by a loosely-connected spinal cord. The sounds, messages, and voices on Perfect Hair are at a constant tug-of-war. On one end you have 'Ego Death', with a menacing beat illuminating the ego-centric insanity of Driver, Aesop Rock, & Danny Brown, on the other, the following track, 'Upsweep', an airy, atmospheric construction with our lead rapping and singing about the inevitable distress of aging. They're not meant to connect as obvious contradictions, and yet, it's the perfect hair that allows them to remain parallel, coming together to rally against the expected norm. It's the unexpected flashes that instill intrigue within the product, shocks of reality hit the listener as Regan's life reaches the limelight rather than receding into a complementary role. 

One thing I've chosen to neglect thus far is the production, much of which was created by Driver himself. Despite still being unconventional and very much in the left-field of Hip-Hop the sounds here show signs of structure, simplicity, and succulence. Often times, the best tracks are the ones where the beat doesn't attempt to over-produce, choosing to ease us in with subtle accompaniment rather than beating us into submission with a constant barrage of sounds coming from all corridors. 'Upsweep', 'Eat Rich', and 'King Cookie Faced' are the best examples of this approach. The latter showcases this by colliding tingling synths with protruding bass, both of which never overstep their boundaries, allowing for a delightful addition to the palate in the form of vocally-altered male and female voices that lustfully conclude each chorus. The cluttered tracks, while definitively Busdriver-esque, drown out his voice, making the song itself a chore to sort through, with subtle nuances there waiting to be discovered. Overall though, the album flows relatively nicely, twisting and turning, making abrupt halt's, changing tone on a dime, much in accordance with the highly-combustible nature of Busdriver's emotional layover. 

Possibly the most obvious alteration to Busdriver's sound, and the one that benefits him the greatest on Perfect Hair, is his sudden ability to make catchy choruses that don't jar the listener, much like his previous works. His verses still maintain the expected level of insanity, but many choruses here restrict themselves to understood phrases that directly profit off the topic at hand, choosing to relish in exhilaration, while still giving Busdriver the chance to sing. 'Eat Rich''s "I'm so hungry man I could eat the rich, eat eat eat the rich, eat eat eat the rich" is instantly savory, while the second half of 'Colonize The Moon' utilizes Pegasus Warning's crooning to summarize Busdriver's childhood of loneliness that explains his current place in Hip-Hop. Perfect Hair is littered with gratifying moments much like these choruses, the most noticeable coming towards the conclusion of 'Colonize The Moon''s first half, acting much like the climax to the album. Weirdly reminiscent of Charlie Wilson's bridge on Kanye West's 'Bound 2', Pegasus Warning exudes a champion stance hollering that "All I've done, all I've seen, who cares about you, what else could I be" as a brooding bass blares through the speaker, coming off as a revival of sorts for a man leaving earth. This is truly the message of Perfect Hair, a record that comes off as a split division between one man's persona, captured in an infinite battle between real and fake, us vs. them, relishing in the mess rather than aiming for perfect hair. 

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