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

Janelle Monae and Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus are featured on the soundtrack to Boots Riley’s radical film

Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius Green in Boots Riley's SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, an Annapurna Pictures release.

Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius Green

Peter Prato / Annapurna Pictures

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 co-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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