The Busy Signals – Pure Energy

The Busy Signals
Pure Energy

First off: the biography. It’s required. Busy Signals is actually just one goddamned dude named Howard something. He’s from some town somewhere and likes to make the sort of computer-aided white-boy indie hip-hop that’s collected here on this Pure Energy album. He wears a parka when it’s cold out, which is probably quite often, ‘cuz he comes from one really freaking cold city. And despite having manufactured and released three Busy Signals CDs now, Howard remains marginally more talented at parka-wearing than music-crafting. Now let’s discuss.
So after only two proper full-lengths, the Busy Signals release this sort of Odds ‘n’ Sods-style comp, collecting together a few unreleased songs, a handful of foreign singles and bonus tracks, and the occasional remix or two. I don’t know, it’s not my place to judge, but maybe this fellow should have waited until he had more than a mere 11 tracks to construct this compilation. This record feels flimsy, in more than one way; there’s not much here, and there’s not much to what is here, either. Take the title track, for instance; produced by Chris Heidman (of the “legendary” Sukpatch), “Pure Energy” puts a rudimentary beat, a few samples, and a bit of slightly pleasing keyboard noise together with some truly terrible lyrics to result in a boring, almost non-entity of a song. The slightly catchy chorus keeps “Pure Energy” from being a total failure, but then the chorus itself is sabotaged by the utterly inane and unoriginal words. It sounds like Len, to boot. Elsewhere, Triangle’s remix of “The Freeway” resembles America with mediocre singing drowning in a well of pointless beats and glitches. Other tunes, like “Explorin'” and “Cans,” come and go within about a minute or so, leaving little impression of any sort whatsoever; as pleasant as these tunes may occasionally be, they remain insubstantial and stand as little more than filler. Indeed, a lot of this record sounds, for lack of a more apt term, half-assed.
A few tracks are worth checking out, however. Collaborating with guest vocalists draws the best out of old Howard. Pure Energy’s two best selections eschew Howard’s vocals in favor of the more appealing melodies of Har Mar Superstar and Phonte. “Autopilot” is an obvious stand-out track thanks to Phonte’s rapping and singing; his vocals are in every way superior to Howard’s own. Phonte’s delivery is more melodic and engaging, and his lyrics, while nothing extraordinary, easily pass muster as winning words for a pop song. The music to “Autopilot” also improves noticeably from the standard Busy Signals backing track. Har Mar Superstar, meanwhile, gives a goddamned tour de force performance on “Friend of a Friend,” squeezing more soul and emotion into any single syllable than Howard exhibits on all of the songs he sings. And that right there better explains the Busy Signals’ problem than anything else I could have written. Har Mar Superstar, while a truly gifted singer, is a parody, a joke, a big ol’ heap of irony, and yet he still exudes exponentially more sincerity and charisma than Howard W. Hamilton III. However put-on it may be, Har Mar’s got the passion, something that Howard seems to desperately lack on these limp computer programs masquerading as songs.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. The Busy Signals aren’t really terrible, or anything; Howard Hamilton’s previous albums, Baby’s First Beats and Pretend Hits, while not being all that particularly impressive, were definitely more interesting and accomplished than Pure Energy. Pure Energy fails primarily on account of its grab-bag nature and the preponderance of underdeveloped, unmotivated songwriting. Sukpatch journeyed down these trails years ago with much greater results, while currently I Am the World Trade Center mines the same general territory but write better music and possess far better vocals. The Busy Signals can’t match up to those groups, especially not with the weak material of Pure Energy. As such, I say we should all just hang up the goddamn phone, for crying out loud! Ha! I apologize.