[28 March 2012]
It’s hard to talk about a band named POPO with a straight face. In fact, people may mistake POPO for a reference to the city police or perhaps a children’s circus clown. Starting off with three brothers and rapidly downsizing to one man, POPO is the creative vision of Zeb Malik, a Pakistani-born multi-instrumentalist and Philadelphia nursery school music teacher. Discovered by Trent Reznor, POPO has toured with bands and artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Theophilus London, and Sleigh Bells. Surprisingly and yet noticeably influenced by all three of these artists, POPO’s debut album, Dope Boy Majick, is an implausible collage of sound. While the album flaunts heavily distorted guitars, shrilling synths, choppy beats, and electrified Middle Eastern desert-like whines, every song seems to be altogether too daring. Some songs even vainly hint at the Ramones and the Kinks. Essentially, POPO has mixed several different genres together to achieve a singular sound—and that sound repeatedly fashions an infant-hipster version of Korn.
One thing is certain about Dope Boy Majick: first impressions are not this album’s strong suit. The first track’s title, “Dnt Wnt U, Jst Wnt It All”, looks like a teenage text message, and the song sounds just as naïve. Pounding listeners with overly-distorted guitars and rigid drum beats combined with Malik’s nasally, elastic vocals, this song will make you cringe. Also layered with sounds from Malik’s Middle-Eastern heritage, the song sounds, at times, like snake charmer music or something from Disney’s Aladdin soundtrack. Completely encumbered with sound and reminiscent of Korn’s recent collaboration with Skrillex, “Dnt Want U, Jst Wnt It All” is at best charming the snakes, but certainly not the human ears it seeks to reach.
“Holy Mountain” is yet another track congested with excessively distorted guitars. The song starts off with a trilling bass riff, sounding like a tribal ritual, but soon surrenders to more wooly guitars and what sounds like rattling windows and amplifier feedback. As the song breaks into the chorus, Malik’s vocals falls into a flat, sour howl. Still boasting a Korn influence and a fruitless attempt at something akin to the Flaming Lips, whatever Malik’s spiritual mission was with “Holy Mountain” was lost in static.
However, other tracks on the album seem to find a more concentrated sound. The second track, “Final Fight”, is undoubtedly channeled from Sleigh Bells’ debut album Treats. Some of the riffs seem to flawlessly mimic “Rill Rill”. “Let’s Get Away” is also a nice vacation from the nebulous hell that comes out in some of the other songs on the album. It is sunny and catchy with soaring vocals, bouncy synths and beats. Truthfully, you’ll wonder if you’re still listening to POPO. The song sounds more like something by Neon Indian, but still not quite up to par. Malik sings “I will save you from yourself,” and “Let’s Get Away” is definitely a rare moment of salvation on the album.
Dope Boy Majick has a few more of these moments in songs like “About U Boy” and “Bummer Summer”. “About U Boy” introduces some punk and garage rock sounds to the album. Starting off with an upbeat guitar riff and running into choruses of “oh oh oh yeah”, this song seems to be narrowly influenced by bands such as the Ramones and The Hives. Despite its Judy Bloom-esque name, “Bummer Summer” is another rare song to the album. The song feebly nods to the Kinks with a bright and coasting melody.
“POPONGUZU” and “Sik Sik Sik” definitely speak to POPO’s hip-hop influence, at least in instrumentation. A purely instrumental song, “POPONGUZU” is drowsy, sounding like a yawning video game, a dozing robot, or some kind of mechanical slumber. With its squeaky synths, clanky drums, and muffled vocal tones, “Sik Sik Sik” feels exactly like going through a car wash. These songs may get old fast, but at least they forgo the over-distorted guitar riffs that are so persistent on the rest of the album.
POPO’s Dope Boy Majick is a hodgepodge of musical influence that manifests as a disaster. In Zeb Malik’s defense, some of the songs on the album are interesting, but the album as a whole could have benefited from a little more focus and little less distortion. If you’ve ever been curious to know what a young hipster with a guilty pleasure for Korn sounds like, you’ll soon find out with POPO’s debut Dope Boy Majick.