Calling Grand Buffet a hip-hop duo is like calling Tom Waits a folksinger. Neither is, ostensibly, an incorrect classification. Yet, to call Tom Waits a folksinger is to deny his roots in jazz, beat poetry, blues, his own cosmic weirdness, and his (I will argue this with anyone) musical ethics which are quite punkish in nature. Likewise, if I tell you that Grand Buffet is one of the most inventive hip-hop groups…ahem…ever, I’m definitely ignoring their firm and impressive grasp of Devo-esque synth-pop, their nerdy sense of humor, and their ability to sound kind of fucking metal while singing about banshees (like on “Sunset Witch”).
In November of 2007, under even my considerable radar, Grand Buffet released King Vision, one of the finest albums of the year. Loosely, King Vision could be considered a hip-hop album. Those who are familiar with Grand Buffet might have seen them (as I did the first time) opening for Sage Francis back before he went completely emo. And there are heavy beats and great rhymes all over King Vision. But it’s not just a hip-hop album. Songs like “Casting Shadows” (which sounds like Devo meets Social Distortion and ends on the great line, “Fuck you if you really think it doesn’t matter anymore”), “Outside,” and “Sunset Witch,” are more pop then hip-hop and they highlight the fact that Grand Buffet have many weapons in their arsenal and, while it still looms large, hip-hop is but one of those weapons.
King Vision comes off a little like a concept album (as much as any concept album does) and is loosely plotted around a monarchy that is tyrannical (go figure), prompting a few self-aware, liberty-seeking cats to realize that they have just as much power as their oppressive government, they just have fewer people who believe it. In no way should this be seen as analogous to the current situation in our modern day U.S. of A. This is emphasized by the fact that the lead track is called, “Born in the U.S.A.” Okay, so there could be a political message read into King Vision, but it’s still inventive as art, and amazing as music. And the album’s overall message is not that George W. Bush is evil and should be replaced by a left-leaning figurehead; King Vision is telling you to be your own King and to “collide with the paralyzing fantasy forced upon our lives” (from “Heavy Targets”). The album takes on Kings and whatever supposed divine right empowered them and does so in a way that is much more clever than that song Pink did about President W.
Musically, like a lot of Grand Buffet’s stuff, King Vision sounds like it was produced by benevolent time-travelers from the future who went back to the 80’s and made synthesizers not sound like shit. Sure, electric guitars pop up here and there, but for the most part, Grand Buffet have kept their signature “1980’s sci-fi movie” sound. The songs are brief, tuneful, and they pack quite a punch. My favorite line is from “Dark Autumn”: “You think the answer is to kill my TV?/I’ll blow your microwave up/It doesn’t play DVD’s.” Grand Buffet are a clever musical duo in any genre if they come to Los Angeles, I will tell them so to their fucking faces.