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"The Fall of Hobo Johnson" Hobo Johnson

by Steven Daniszewski - Contributing Writer
Tue, Oct 29th 2019 02:00 pm

Hobo Johnson is an... eclectic artist, but my friends enjoy his sound. Fearing an echo chamber effect, I searched the internet to see what the rest of the world thinks of his new album — “The Fall of Hobo Johnson” — before writing my opinion. 

Turns out, the same things I appreciate the album for, others hate. Some had already stopped at the NPR TinyDesk concert that gave him mild popularity. Others are bothered to the point of sending death threats to him and his family over the lyric, “I love the thought of being with her I just really hope she doesn’t get hurt,” in a song where he talks about a coworker who treated him nicely despite his homelessness, his feelings for her and how he buried them as he doesn’t want to interfere with her current relationship.

Johnson critics and fans both agree he’s a laundry list of genres: hip-hop, spoken word, rap and alt rock. One common criticism is he “sounds like a panic attack given a microphone.” which I personally love. The choruses are harsh and unpolished, but to me, that makes it better to shout along with. His music, by nature, does not copy chord progression, pop trends or use common denominator lyrics to nail a market. His albums are a genre-stir-fry with live instruments as well as electronic influences like snippets of conversations cut in to the beat or loud interjections from bandmates, and this album builds upon that base, refining it.  

The album starts with “Typical Story,” launching into a loud alt rock, grungy punk anthem. It tones it down quickly, with “Mover Awayer” — more spoken word poetry than rap or singing — before diving into full-blown melancholy with “Uglykid.”

 “UglyKid” is about Johnson’s insecurities, how he wants his crush to be happy and wants to be happy that his crush is happy. Two tracks later, “Subaru Crosstrek” brings it back into a self-aware, upbeat alt-rock melody. He’s come a long way from homelessness, but before buying an expensive car, he’s going to brag with a used Subaru and have damn fun with it. 

“Happiness” is a slow moving, emotionally raw apology for manic reactions, and how he firmly believes that an ex will, despite his words, achieve fame and happiness with her book. The track’s melody stops and has realizations along with its writer. 

“Sorry, My Dear” features his common characteristic of robotic sounding autotune, mumble-singing and electronica, while the lyrics sound like they are encouraging you to scream on the highway at 3 a.m. about how living is sometimes easier than dying. It’s unabashedly chaotic and emotional. 

The final song goes back to the melodic style in “Subaru Crosstrek.” Lyrically, it’s like he listened to his music and subsequently wrote an apology. He knows he should keep his wants just to the basic stability he never had. He starts his list with a dog, then a house, then a wife, then a great kid — but he then stops himself, ashamedly aware his rambling scares people more than it eases his isolation. 

One critic claimed Johnson is the product of suburban teenagers who regularly shopped at Zumiez. In the end, music is subjective and all I can say is give it a shot. I think it’s worth it. 

Photo of the Week

Taken by Mathieu Starke, staff photographer

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