The Busy Signals – Pretend Hits

The Busy Signals
Pretend Hits

Pretend Hits will no doubt end up my soundtrack for summer. Pure and poppy, yet fresh and changing, this is my current favorite album. The second actual Busy Signals album, Pretend Hits includes pristine pop songs, soft vocals, hip-hop style beats, and modern electronic elements, all mixed in the same songs or throughout. The various styles used here, all tightly focused around a pop sensibility, almost give the album a sense that it is a hits album as opposed to a new release, but the songs flow regardless.
The Busy Signals is actually Minnesotan Howard W. Hamilton III (who refers to himself as HWH3), a self-described shut-in who spends all of his time composing beats and crafting tight melodies. Most of these songs are composed in HWH3’s home on various computers, but a few songs went straight to 8-track with help from Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider. Just the difference between the guests (Har Mar Superstar and Schneider) give you an idea how two very different styles are going to be blended here. I joked with one friend that this sounds like Belle & Sebastian with a DJ, and in part that’s true. An odd yet entirely endearing and nearly perfect mix.
On the more beat-oriented songs, Har Mar Superstar and rapper Phonte’ join on “Buckle Down” for a light number, tossing out raps to compliment the Signals’ pop playfulness and soft vocals. I’m left feeling like the song is a delightful cross between Looper and the Primitive Radio Gods song that got all the airplay. The first Schneider contribution is the psychedelic-modern track “The Freeway,” which features synth background, electronic beats, and soft, almost crooned vocals for a wonderful effect. “Busy Busy Busy” is an entirely electronic sound, but it’s pop in the vein of Looper, and “Tomorrow’s Ways Today” is an absolutely delightful, piano-lead pop song that shows hints of an Elephant 6 sensibility.
Of the purely pop songs, “The New You” is charming and sweet yet with a steady beat and subtle samples used to compliment the soft guitar and vocals. And while “All the Young Designers” starts off all beats and mixing, the guitar and vocals ground it in a quiet yet playful pop style. HWH3 shows why he makes a living selling CDs of hip-hop beats on eBay with a song like the beat-heavy “Attention Please,” and I could swear I’ve heard “Hyper Reality Check” before. I was singing along the first time to this groovy, beat- and sample-laden, incredibly catchy song. Phonte’ goes a little crazy on the rap track “Fresh Like Clear Gel,” one of the only songs that don’t fit in, but “Keep Busy” is another beat-laden track that has nice, flowing sounds and pop vocals.
This album isn’t just a pop album, although that’s where it all starts and ends. But in that framework, the Busy Signals’ take a lot of leeway, using plenty of beats, samples, soft vocals, catchy hooks, and guitar and computer-generated noises to create something completely fresh and fun. Absolutely perfect for summer evenings and long road trips. Definitely a gem.