BUSDRIVER: JHELLI BEAM
When Busdriver describes his “haircut like a pineapple” or his “Zaxxon joystick that pokes at his glitter spackled tight jump suit,” language gets so excited it sucks its own unwashed toes. I formed a symbolic crush on Busdriver three Coachellas ago when I intercepted an interview with him—without much of an idea who he was beyond “Imaginary Places.” He seemed like a library-in-the-afternoon guy: soft and slow-speaking, pushing up his dirty glasses on his nose, a nerd in the atlas section counting how many more islands have been added to the Pacific Ocean since the 1700s.
Later, at his performance, he was tangling himself in his mic cord as if it were ivy crawling around his body. Seven shuffling decks of playing cards cascaded from his mouth to be absorbed by the emptiness of outer space. Busdriver’s hand in the air: his fingers disjointed to capsize little boatfuls of lyrics into oblivion one after the other. He is his own doppelganger, I noted, scooping my drool off the railing.
His mustard-and-ketchup color-coordinated outfits are a treat to behold—and I don’t mean to objectify the rapper—not in a tasteless way. We can talk smart about his wordplay, how he can “make sheet music leak coolant when [he] speak to it,” weaving kaleidoscopic images and ideas, diamonds upon rainbow diamonds clicking together through that little eyehole of his mind—he says he usually juggles three new songs at once in his head, more letters than coins in his fanny pack—and his frustration, how he owns the underdog position.
Everything on Jhelli Beam makes sense. Every word is a picture. Every sentence pushes over the one before it the way dominos fall when they’re lined up in a row. The music badmintons with his cadence, provided by some of Busdriver’s far-out friends Daedelus and Nobody, as well as Nosaj Thing, Free the Robots, Omid, and Greg Saunier and John Dietrich from Deerhoof. Opening track “Split Seconds (Between Nannies and Swamis)” may be my favorite. An invitation to dip into Busdriver’s “saffron soy dip.” Are you dressed for the occasion? Then take off your clothes and relish in call and response chorus: “(call) Be yourself—(response) But I’m too embarrassed!” Hello, Existential Crisis Thesis. Welcome to your life.
Track two, my second favorite, “Me Time…with the Pulmonary Palimpsest” is so fast, it’s hilarious and absurd, with a Music Hum piano concerto in the background you recognize but dang, got a C+ in that class and can’t name so Busdriver ushers us into “Me time…me time…me time…”—I love that. Point at yourself and dig, this is Busdriver time, but we are all the Busdriver of this rap song, looking in the mirror with a shoe as a microphone. Toe-lickers. Don’t deny it. Sometimes you smell your own socks and underwear to see if they’re clean, measuring how close or far to godliness you really are.
Another stand-out song is “Least Favorite Rapper,” featuring youngster Nocando sharing the mic. Here is where they play that game with the tab on a soda can, where you each take turns flicking it back and forth and whoever knocks it off, is going to get asked on a date by their crush—though in this case perhaps they’ll win some record sales. “Do The Wop” has a perfect refrain: “Me, I do the wop with no dance license,” but you won’t be able to twist or Charlie to this one. Busdriver can’t help but pull the rug out from under us. Now we’re “softer than egg McMuffins” and fuck us if we are looking for something on this album that isn’t there. This is not a cause for separation. Bus is with us on this: “The fact I’m on the shitty end of this ampersand/Makes me want to do the Roger Rabbit in a bomber jacket/To the polyrhythm of the soda pop fizz cuz still…”
Does anyone have an answer to this question: “Oh what to do when the world we service is a whirling dervish?” I’d like to know. Bus asks in “World Agape.” It seems his answer is to point at things and try to describe the itness of IT with as many syllables as he is allowed. He is a sword fighter cutting his way through a muddy bog: flowers poison his ankles and snakes perk up and bloom in his wake as he journeys forth, seeking a princess in a leather bikini with a taste for “spooning and spoonerisms.” We can talk the quantum wave forms of his “diary diahrrea” and how the musical accompaniment is an orchestra for [un]silent film rather than the makings of a dancefloor banger—it may be danceable in wild bursts (“Manchuria” with its handclaps and man-sighs can get your booty dropping) but this is music for that cauliflower attached to your neck—it’s the surreal squirrel-cheeks-full-of-nuts intensity of the over-saturated subconscious mind. Busdriver’s opened a mainline to that weird place and must constantly feed its appetite for perception. This is creativity—this is the reason for being: to perceive/ingest, and digest, and poop it out.
There’s an oasis. Bubbling beneath the oasis is a volcano. The vitamin-rich volcanic soil makes the landscape gorgeous and strange, full of smells and textures and we must do our part to touch and taste and look at everything that comes in our path and what we can’t physically interact with we must imagine, and there, in imagination land, is where we are held by time. Busdriver proves once again with his latest album Jhelli Beam that he is the poster boy for reality—a perfect truth that seems dressed up in nonsense.