Way back before fall of 2003, I couldn’t be caught dead listening to rap or anything resembling a beat with words put to it. What was the point of it? Musically, there was no technical skill to it in comparison to other music. No battles to try and top your own prowess on a guitar, or drums, or any other instrument. The same went for electronic music in my book. Little devices that make music that you just press buttons and put on your table-summer 2003 me was not interested. Fall 2003 me then discovered Ratatat, and then Why?, then the cascade couldn’t stop the flow even today where a good half of my total music consumption is devoted to those aforementioned beats with words. Busdriver was one of the early artists that broke that barrier down, along with Eyedea & Abilities and Aesop Rock. “Imaginary Places” was a stunner with its ergonomic delivery spiraling around a flute before abandoning it entirely halfway through with this declaration:
“Kids! If you want to piss off your parents, show interest in the arts!”
Hooked. Then in 2005, he started exploring with dance beats in “Avantcore,” then revisited briefly with 2007’s disco’d up “Sun Shower.” Roadkillovercoat was so well rounded, even for a rapper that is impossible to contain in a specific genre label, that the follow-up Jhelli Beam didn’t catch much attention. Beaus$Eros cemented attention, especially when it came out the Los Angeles rapper started getting with Berlin’s Modeselektor. Granted, this wasn’t on this new disc, but damn…it made me want to listen to it even months out:
“Utilitarian Uses of Love” and its imposing throbbing synth opens Beaus$Eros, giving the customary contradictions through light, staccato keys and Busdriver’s high nasal register. It soon shifts, juggling between self-served harmonies and strutting verses. It’s taunting, encircling, closing in until that Berlin influence sneaks in halfway in and glitches hits to the right and left that call forth Siriusmo (though the entire album was produced by Belgian producer Loden). The balance between Loden and Busdriver bodes well. Truthfully though, in true Busdriverse style, “Utilitarian Uses of Love” in no way prepares you for the next track. “Bon Bon Fire” is that dance track that, despite how many left feet you may have, willingly draws people to the epic dance beat over cynically smug, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, “You read blogs, recycle cans, I screen calls, recycle fans cause I appeal to folks that you can’t by acting awkward, like Hugh Grant” balanced by “And I didn’t get no huge advance, I taught music camp for food stamps.”
Busdriver is akin to Aesop Rock in the sense what they’re pursuing the lyrical limits of the genre. Their saving grace from stumbling into chronic dryness is the production. Loden contributes heavily, which makes Beaus$eros a much stronger album than Jhelli Beam. “Ass to Mouth” catches the attention as quickly as the trailer to The Human Centipede, which while you want to delve in and dance to the euro-centric production, you may just pause when Busdriver shouts out, “But I am the antichrist! I’m antichrist!” Far from Marilyn Manson, he definitely stirs the musical pot much more thanks to Loden. (Maybe it’s the fact Loden’s heavy in the Amsterdam scene that makes this all the more provocative?) You also get a bit of it during “No Blacks, No Jews, No Asians.” Fader got it right in calling it “cryptic” and “frightening” with the ecclesiastical echoes. In it, Busdriver lists off perplexing items with “No blacks, no jews, no asians…” including, “The Applebees coupon hole puncher.” Inaccessible? Maybe. Intriguing? Entirely. If anyone can explain this song in depth, please do. It’s Busdriver to a new level. (And please revisit the quote above.)
Truth be told, it’s not the most accessible album. And maybe fourteen tracks topping 54 minutes is honestly a bit too much. Certainly a few tracks could have been trimmed back and later presented as an EP, at least which is why Roadkillovercoat remains his best. Loden makes the heaviness digestible and, when you focus on that, is the “audio guide” to decoding the rapper’s lyrics in manageable bits like with “Swandive into a Drinking Glass.”
There’s genius in there. “You Ain’t OG” starts unassumingly, with a low synth akin to the soundtrack to Drive, before centralizing on that disco sensibility that peeks into his music. The blinds are drawn on what could be the next album as he willingly draws back, letting the album breathe through orchestral synth. It’s this moment, letting the listener concentrate on the piano, that soon unloads a heavy, soaring melody in easily one of his best songs to date.
Beaus$Eros is Busdriver coming back to the States, chock full of the experiences and cultural colors absorbed through his European tours and times with Modeselektor and Loden. It may be overwhelming, but if the next album comes out trimmed up à la Roadkillovercoat, this rapper’s going to shock music genres like the discoveries of a 1600s conquistador.