Review: The ‘Sorry to Bother You’ Soundtrack Bursts With Genre-Blurring Surrealism

Boots Riley’s first feature film — a surrealist depiction of his hometown Oakland during capitalist wartime — came with a clamorous, giddy score by hometown heroes Tune-Yards; its layered vocal loops and stampeding beats kept up with each increasingly bizarre twist onscreen. The movie’s official soundtrack, which showcases Riley’s long-running hip-hop collective The Coup alongside other musical visionaries, is similarly vibrant; its 35 minutes of future funk burst with the confident audacity of Sorry‘s most jaw-dropping moments even as Riley and his fellow guests are describing personal and social problems.

Some guests come from the film itself: Star Lakeith Stanfield growls a boastful verse on the brass-and-glam-rock opening stomper “OYAHYTT” — an acronym for its chanted “Oh Yeah, Alright, Hell Yeah, That’s Tight” refrain, which should be seconds away from being repurposed for sports-event pump-ups, if only to add to Sorry’s real-life-or-surrealist-prank quotient. (They’ll probably edit out the bit where Stanfield boasts “I got a bullet and I’m willing to bang,” though.) The high-energy beat and scuzz-fuzz guitar of “Another Saturday Night” add absurdist gusto to Riley’s anarcho-party verses and Garbus’ julienned backing vocals, while “Anitra’s Basement” is a groove-heavy showcase for Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus and roots singer Jolie Holland’s choir-leader skills.

Riley and producer Damion Gallegos sustain the mood with tightly wound, yet spontaneous-sounding instrumentals that highlight collaborators’ strengths. Funk-rock visionary Janelle Monáe flies her freak flag on the sweat-soaked “Whatthegirlmuthafuckinwannadoo,” then looms over the grandiose “Over and Out/Sticky Sunrise” in a way that makes her seem like a space-lord of an alternate galaxy, the sort of utopia where ELO and Prince would team up for a concept album. “Monsoon” has malfunctioning-mainframe synths at its edges that add to the walls-closing-in feeling of Riley’s and Atlanta MC Killer Mike’s depictions of alcoholism; on “Crawl Out the Water,” cowbells and buzzy old-school keyboards surround the steely-eyed lyrics of Riley and Bay Area hip-hop hero E-40. The fighting spirit at <auras core is echoed by its soundtrack, an appropriate accompaniment for any end-of-days party as well as the hangover afterward.

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