Rapidly-rising artist Frank Lopes Jr., better known as Hobo Johnson, released his sophomore album today. Titled The Fall of Hobo Johnson, the record is a an interesting follow-up to the first recording, The Rise of Hobo Johnson, pursuing similar musical themes while at the same time moving into new terrain.
As indicated in the album’s titular inversion of the first project, Hobo’s new work opens up broader space for exploration than his previous projects. Specifically, it shuttles between the intimate world of self-doubt, shame, and uncertainty, and broader themes of politics, world conflict, and history. Ultimately, though, it is less a shuttling-between than a candid look at the messy interplay between the political and the personal.
The Energy of Breaking Musical Boundaries
Musically, The Fall of Hobo Johnson continues to revel in the hybridity that has defined his earlier work and for which he has become known.
His vocal delivery ranges from simple sing-song rhyming, to free-flowing poetry reading, to the painful guttural cries. While Hobo is known for disregarding and transgressing distinctions between musical genres, it is at times hard to tell if the rudimentary rhyming on many of the album’s tracks is a self-conscious decision or a musical shortcoming.
Despite this, Hobo’s vocals playfully complement and run on top of far-reaching instrumentations that blend elements of hip-hop, rock, folk, and punk. Moving from the upbeat horns of “Uglykid” to the moody electronic distortions of “Sorry, My Dear,” listeners never know where the next track will take them.
With the exception of only some very brief lulls, listening to the album is generally engaging, fun, and energizing.
Celebrating the Outcast and the Misfit
Hobo’s lyrics—the questions they explore, the messes they look at, and the conclusions they suggest—are arguably the most interesting part of the new album.
Hobo positions deeply personal concerns next to, within, and in contrast to larger political-social structures. Specifically, he is most interested in the points of friction where social norms exert oppressive and potentially deadly pressure onto peoples’ personal lives.
In doing so, Hobo consistently aligns with the position of the outcast, the misfit, and the lonely. He chooses the side of those who do not fit in with the mainstream.
He is the ugly kid of “Uglykid.” And in an earlier statement he described the music video to the album’s lead single, “Typical Story,” as depicting “my somewhat surrealist view of a Los Angeles pool party, which I have never got invited to.” For Hobo, the entire album is for and about “all the misfits who never get invited” to the cool kids’ party.
Hobo openly acknowledges the pain that can come from living in the position of the outcast or the slightly-out-of-step. And his music hopes to bring some sense of belonging and hope to those who may be drowning in that pain.
“The new album is a mix of songs and poems I’ve had floating around in my head for the last few year,” Hobo said of the new album. “I’m really proud of it and hope that it makes everyone feel a little less alone and a little more like they want to stay alive.”
Outside Social Norms, Free of Social Norms
Ultimately—and despite the pain and challenges of being outcast—Hobo sees this type of alienation as a preferable position. He lives in it, but he also chooses it.
For Hobo, being the “ugly kid” outside of normative society is also to be free of society’s suffocating pressures and expectations. Free to carve out new relationships and connections with others. Free to create and discover new ways of having fun and finding pleasure.
For Hobo, the ground on which the outcasts live might also the ground that most clearly highlights the absurdity and violence of many of our social norms.
Ultimately, Hobo wonders if alienation might actually be the position best-suited to critiquing systems of power and social norms—particularly the cruelty of these systems. And in place of that cruelty, Hobo creates a musical world that is both an anguished cry and a raucous party where he and his misfit friends can love each other and themselves.