Pigeon John‘s new album, Dragon Slayer, is a study in contrast. Lyrically, it follows the Los Angeles veteran emcee’s pattern of highlighting the everyday, jokily subverting Hip Hop’s conventions. Musically, the album veers all over the place with mixed results. John seems to be attempting to place himself in line with newer rappers that he predates by several years, like Kid Cudi and B.o.B. These artists appear to want to be everything to everyone, showing that they are down with Rap heads and Indie Rock fans alike, and be as commercially accessible as possible while being careful not to come off to “try-hard.” What one would hope is that this type of approach would lead to some eclectic results, an amalgamation unique to its creator, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Dragon Slayer is too safe, too sterile, and too polite, it feels less like the work of an artist breaking new personal ground and more like a musician chasing trends.
Whereas 2006’s Pigeon John…And The Summertime Pool Party carefully balanced the John of old from the singer/songwriting in utero, Dragon Slayer is less interested in balance. It shows as many of the songs sound similar. Opening duo “The Bomb” and “Buttersoft Seats” are a good example. Both feature simple choruses, essentially the title repeated over and over, with little melodic development throughout. Yes, the songs are pleasingly high energy and relative catchy, but they’re catchy in a way that wears off easily, as they don’t have enough going on to sustain prolonged fixation on the part of listeners. Compositionally, many of the tracks follow a pattern. They are essentially 80% Indie-Pop song and 20% Hip Hop, with the smaller percentage being represented by a quick verse spit by John. That’s not a promising split.
Too often the songs just seem like bland copies of things that’ve been done a million times before. “Before We’re Gone” is a mid-tempo song that recalls the more forgettable work of mid-level Indie Rock bands that have risen to prominence in the last decade and the results are, unsurprisingly, middling. “Rock Bottom Again” is languid Beatles-esque Pop and while it’s carried off competently that type of pastiche is a dime a dozen. The song is also unoriginal lyrically painting the portrait of a Godly man thrown off the path by drugs but the lyrics offer no new insights into what it means to want to be holy while being sinful. And lyrics like “You’re the voice I always heard when the silence got loud / And you’re the artist behind the all the animals and the clouds” don’t help. “Davey Rockit” is another instance of Pigeon John relying too heavily on templates. It’s a story-song about that most well worn of cliché’s – the young man’s misadventure on the road to fame and it features such lyrics as, “Everyone told him not to do it / They said, ‘Dave just chill / And get a job and get a gig at the mall.’” You won’t be shocked to find the song’s protagonist was able to ignore that advice. Album closer “Ben Vereen” is just inexcusable. It’s lyrics are a boring, misogynistic diatribe against an ex-lover who is dismissed with the embarrassingly sophomoric put down “Why you gotta act so mean? You’re such a pretty girl on the outside but your insides are Ben Vereen.”
The album does have highlights though. John’s talent at making the ordinary sound cooler than cool is in full effect on “So Gangster” where he spits knowingly, “Yup, I’m bangin’ some Depeche Mode / Windows down so you can see my fresh mode / Yeah, my 6-4 is only a Nintendo / But I’m smashin’ fools on some ‘Super Mario.’” Though, he goes back to the same well on “To Do List” with much less satisfying results. “Excuse Me” and “Hey You” offer welcome, high-energy diversions from the generally laid back mood of the album as a whole. “Dude, It’s On” is an example of one of the few songs on Dragon Slayer that is essentially a imitation but still stands on it’s own. The track is a good example of modern, Psychedelic Pop with processed vocals, organ, and glockenspiel mixing with John’s laconic delivery.
But far too much of Dragon Slayer sounds like a guy trying to fit into as many boxes as possible. What’s the point of ditching the samples and writing your own material if the original work sounds like a carbon copy of other artists? As he has for over a decade, Pigeon John proves himself as a talented guy with his own worldview, something that he isn’t afraid to express in his lyrics. On his next record he’d do well to bring that distinctiveness to the musical side.