Those who have followed Busdriver over the past decade know that his rap is wild, untamed, overwhelming. And yes, at times it borders on unbearable. It’s not for nothing that Regan John Farquhar cut his teeth in the 90s with the group Project Blowed, which along with crews like Freestyle Fellowship or Abstract Rude renovated rap with a concept of vocal improvisation very similar to jazz –even crossing over into free style– and basses that were played by session musicians venturing over into electronic sounds that were then uncommon in hip hop. A good part of what has been cooked up in the avant-rap of the last decade –a style that maliciously came to be called “ rap-gafapasta” here (referring to the acetate glasses typical of intellectuals) – has come from jams that this group sponsored in Los Angeles’ Good Life Café, and which are still giving succulent fruit today: listen to the LP that Open Mike Eagle put out last year. Busdriver is a product of that period: a quick review of his albums can be summarised by two constants: a flow in which he minces words with the speed and voracity of a critter, and an endless palette of styles, in which, oddly enough, his best-known piece is “ Imaginary Places,” where he raps over the last movement of Bach’s 2nd Orchestral Suite in B Minor, competing with a flute that it blowing full speed ahead: baroque rap sixteenth notes in allegro molto vivace tempo—how’s that for virtuosity?
That’s why it’s surprising that this John Zorn of words would take it into his head to park his devilish flow and record a pop album. Well, free-pop, avant-pop, or simply weird pop. I mean to say that Busdriver sings more than he raps on this album. And he comes off without a scratch: with a voice that is a shouting match between Peter Gabriel, John Lydon and Horace Andy. One of the things that most grabs your attention about “Beaus$eros” is the production, handled by the Belgian Loden, which is compact and seamless. While his previous albums (except maybe the project “The Weather,” with Daedelus and Basque-American MC Radioinactive) were operettas that mixed different styles randomly, with him bellowing on top, here one can speak of the same sound, from beginning to end. And how does it sound? Well, somewhere in between “Hello Mom!” by Modeselektor and the Beastie Boys’ “Hello Nasty”: electronic hip hop with typically raver outbursts.
And then you have to throw in a taste for the sound of synth-pop and new wave melodies, as well as some complex structures, alternating a taste for the epic with ambient passages: it isn’t hard to imagine a fan of Rush or the Cardiacs sinking their teeth into it. The song “Bon Bon Fire” is a good sample of this: an IDM intro, a chorus with very playful female back-up singing, a funky base with a booming bass, tacky redneck singing, rave riffs and rushes, a very “beastie” bridge, a Panda Bear vocal psychedelic moment, crescendo, explosion, and back to the chorus. Of course it isn’t all like that, songs like “Kiss Me Back to Life” are almost, almost conventional pop, if we took out the baroque details and the abundance of intensity: sometimes he sings with his guts in his mouth. Without a doubt, this album is marked by excess: sometimes it raises it up, and sometimes it drags it down, but that is part of his musical identity: it can only be channelled, if he doesn’t fall out of grace. Lighter, but no less strange is “Feelings,” a sort of R&B song with an oriental air and voices like Sa-Ra but really over the top, or the classic, cocky rap of “Here’s to Us,” which starts off with a phrase that should be learned in all schools of diplomacy— “You’ve got the face of an impaled vagina,” he says. There are also unnecessary moments: inviting Sierra Casady from CocoRosie to repeat “blue électrique” in French is being hip for no good reason. All told, this is an album where you notice something new every time you listen to it, and a very brave step ahead in his career. We want more and better.