By Assistant Lead Designer Jordan Vongsithi
When you hear the name Frank Lopes Jr., you’re likely not going to bat an eye. However, if you heard the name Hobo Johnson, there is a good chance you would recognize that name. If not, then this is the perfect article for you.
Many people likely first discovered Hobo Johnson with his viral hit “Peach Scone,” the music video of which was submitted to NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2018. Despite collecting millions of views in just a few weeks upon upload, the song did not win the competition for the band.
Regardless, Johnson and crew still appeared on Tiny Desk later that year. This amount of publicity led to the band’s album The Rise of Hobo Johnson gaining huge attraction. Hobo Johnson was now being listened to all over the world, albeit not always in a good light.
There is no debate that Hobo Johnson, and his band “The Lovemakers” is a very polarizing individual in the indie music scene. Fans can appreciate his blend of spoken-word, punk, hip-hop, folk, etc. as well as his refusal to filter himself. Many say Hobo Johnson is a genre himself because of how unique his sound is.
On the contrary, those who are not fans of the Lovemakers’ frontman argue that his music is cringeworthy, misogynistic, and essentially an anthem for “incel culture.” Johnson’s lovesick sad boy branding can be hard to digest at times, and has often been the catalyst for his negative reception. Feelings towards him are binary; ask someone on the street their thoughts on Johnson, and they’ll either love him or hate him.
Both parties have a right to hold their opinions. On a surface level, Johnson’s lyrics are very man-complains-about-girl whiney. However, upon closer listen of his lyrics and music, he is seen as someone feeling lonely, hating it, and just wanting the genuine, unconditional feeling that one feels when they’re in love, and that’s incredibly relatable. Due to this, looking past the initial cringe of Johnson would turn you on to something incredibly unique and wonderful. A great start to this? The Fall of Hobo Johnson.
The sequel to The Rise of Hobo Johnson, this project is a nice blend of the Hobo Johnson sound that everyone knows, while also experimenting with sounds that don’t seemingly fit his vocal style until they combine and prove you wrong.
The intro track, Typical Story, is a great example of this: a grunge punk-esque instrumental mixed with Johnson’s slam poet delivery. A good first track to start off the album, as the high and loud energy really does excite you and thrusts energy into your body.
Following this, you get a more Hobo Johnson-like song with Mover Awayer, in which his partner moves away and how she made his bad days good and how he saw a future with her before she did leave. Really pleasant instrumentation of piano and harmonizing mixed with trap beats.
Then there’s Uglykid featuring Elohim, which is my favorite track off the entire album. Elohim’s beautiful melodic voice and Johnson’s voice, sounding almost fried, while contrasting heavily, combine to create a very smooth listen.
The content of the track, in which Johnson compares his own ugliness to the beauty of the subject, is almost like a split-personality; during the chorus, Elohim compliments the person’s beauty and proclaims she wants to feel that, but Johnson comes in to remind them that they’re ugly. Not just ugly in terms of physical appearance, but in all aspects: feeling ugly, acting ugly, just overall being someone not pleasant to be around. All of this fuses with the very dreamy, very sweet instrumentals make this one of the standouts of the album.
What follows are two tracks that are more comedic than anything on the project, but that is not to say that they are not delivered artistically and effectively. You & the Cockroach, the first of these two, is essentially Hobo Johnson re-telling the narrative of the world, how death, religion, and government has led to most conflict as a result, and how life is an endless cycle doomed to repeat. It is not necessarily a song, but rather a skit meant to be a purposeful break in-between the flow of the album. While it is effective in this, it is also somewhat catchy, and you are not sick of it after a few listens.
The latter of this comedic pair is Subaru Crosstrek XV, where Johnson raps about the battle of financial stability vs. materialistic value. He discusses how he would have bought a Lamborghini but he is not in a place financially to spend that kind of money yet. The track has both the conventional structure of a song while still maintaining that unconventional sound that comes with Hobo Johnson.
Moonlight, the next track on the album, has a very in-your-face approach to its sound, as the song gets progressively more and more saturated with sound. Other instruments enter throughout the length of the song, attempting to steal the spotlight from the previous one. In contrast with this, Hobo Johnson maintains a very calming tone as he raps, making for a very upbeat listen that simultaneously relaxes you in some way.
Happiness, a very peaceful song primarily consisting of piano, presents a sudden change of pace yet again, though not unwelcomed one. Here, Johnson is wishing happiness to someone that he made unhappy. He admits his mistakes and understanding the karma that could be coming back to him. The minimalistic approach of the instrumentals really make this an almost full-stop to the high energy of the album, and it is executed well. It’s as if Johnson is saying that you need relaxation and a break from the high energy every now and then.
All in My Head is very hit-or-miss, in that sometimes it sounds like Hobo Johnson, other times it does not. The acoustic guitar and trap beats that are heavily featured in the instrumentation give off a very Ed Sheeran-esque vibe. The monotone delivery of Johnson still sounds like him, but it also gives off a hint of Macklemore style delivery. That is not to say that either of these are a bad thing, in fact this track is easier to listen to than most on the project. However, because the sound is somewhat lacking that very distinct Hobo Johnson sound, it is the least groundbreaking track on the album.
Then there is Ode to Justin Bieber, with Jmsey and Jack Shoot featuring. A long rant on fame and Johnson’s struggles with handling it. As mentioned in the title, he references Justin Bieber, who has handled fame in positive and negative ways. He mentions Bieber’s past discretions and how despite all this, Johnson respects him for handling celebrity status better than Johnson couldn’t even imagine himself doing. However, after this rant is a very powerful bridge in which Johnson opens up about his vulnerability, how his family and friends are counting on him to be as famous as Justin Bieber and take care of them. Johnson then somewhat agrees with Bieber’s wish that fame never happened to him. The very fast vocals, the almost-alarming instrumentals, all transitioning into a very slow and calming song is quick and sudden and brilliant.
February 15th is a live recording of the song in question, where Hobo Johnson sings to a live audience with just an acoustic guitar to back up his vocals. The simple notes are merely a sidekick to Johnson’s delivery, where he frustratingly raps about his loneliness and how while he’s getting used to it, he is still clearly upset about it. The fact that this song is not studio-recorded gives it a very honest and naked feeling – this is what Johnson is always feeling. To have had a studio recording of it would have negated the point he is getting across, that under all the instruments and lyrics, he feels alone.
The penultimate track, Sorry, My Dear, is very jarring, very dark and very uncomfortable, all in the best way. Throughout the whole track, Johnson’s voice is deliberately over-autotuned to the point where it does not even sound like him anymore. The voice is so high-pitched yet low in decibels that it feels like it is inside your head, as if it’s your inner demons. The accompanying instrumentals have very distinct personalities. During the verses, the only instruments you hear are a very ominous piano chord and muffled drums. Once the chorus kicks in, the instrumentation becomes this high power-metal epic that rises in intensity as Johnson begins screaming in his demonic voice. It’s very powerful and it’s somehow still catchy.
The last song is I Want a Dog, where Hobo Johnson has a conversation with himself about how he wants a dog. The two bickering sides in this song are both Johnson – on one side, he is saying all the things he wants such as a famous-singer wife and a guitar-playing son, while the other side has to keep grounding him and reminding him that all he wants is a dog. It’s a very clear-cut way of Johnson saying how he has to achieve his goals one at a time and not all at once. The instrumentals are very pretty and relaxing and fit the tone of the song: hopeful for the future, and excited to see what is in store.
Hobo Johnson’s songs are about his struggles. Struggles that everyone goes through: loneliness, ugliness, feeling of worthlessness, failing to live up to society’s standards, not having anything worth living for. As aforementioned, his sound is a very acquired taste. However, I believe that there is something for everyone on The Fall of Hobo Johnson, and for that I give this album a strong 9.