Arts and Entertainment

The “Five Dollar Album”: The Humor Department’s Musical Frenzy

Arts & Entertainment Editor Jacqueline Thom struggles to review “The Five Dollar Album” because she’s never done a music review before.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Dorin Flocos

When I learned that the Humor Department had released a SoundCloud album, I didn’t know what to expect beyond a series of yelling, improvised jokes, and the obligatory ASMR. Not surprisingly, this is exactly what the album consists of, but within its virtual covers, there’s also more beyond the unwanted shenanigans I assumed would be present throughout.

“The Five Dollar Album” starts off surprisingly well, with Humor Department Editors Olly Stewart (vocals) and Victor Kuang (guitar) in a hallway. Stewart takes on a faux airy screech as he complains about said hallway’s green aesthetic, crumbs on the floor, and the lack of guitar picks present. Kuang’s improvised guitar is nothing impressive, but his simple strumming is charismatic and lends most of the energy to the piece as Stewart falls in and out of the supposed “metal” voice that he’s using and later, drops off singing altogether. Excepting Stewart’s vocals, this seems to be the case with several of the songs on the album; “Olly Solo!” and “Folk Lentil Soup Didn’t Work -” are just a few examples of when Kuang’s guitar (and occasionally bass) take center stage, often among echoing and distracting ambience with no particular rhythm present.

Later, the album stops catering to what you’d expect from a music album and becomes more of a observer-who-can-only-hear-what’s-going-on-but-it’s-so-loud-that-you-don’t-really-know-what’s-going-on-so-it’s-just-a-perpetual-state-of-confusion type of situation. For some listeners, this might be okay, but for others, it can be a distracting and unpleasant experience. Even tracks where there’s an attempt at spoken word (e.g. “Russian My Chemical Romance” and “Russian Thing I Don’t Remember Lmao”) aren’t easy on the ears and instead add another layer of sound to an already noisy recording environment. That’s not to say that the lyrics, which are just covers of “I Want It That Way” and an unknown lullaby, aren’t somewhat funny when you manage to hear them.

However, when actual music does punctuate the periods where only air conditioning and indistinct talking can be heard, it’s a relief and makes the beats that much sweeter. “I Just Love Her (Do You Know What I Mean)” is one of the highlights of the album. It’s sung by guest artist MC Bizkits, who isn’t listed on the track (I found out later in an interview with Stewart). Bizkits sounds eerily like a mildly convincing London version of Stewart, but who’s to say? It’s how often Bizkits vocalizes his love for Her Royal Highness against a backdrop of jazzy piano that is striking. While the lyrics aren’t particularly deep and are in fact slightly worrying because of Bizkits’ tendency to say “I would die for the Queen” and “She’s the love of my life,” the song’s rhyme scheme is comedic, impressive, and consistent throughout. Bizkits ends the song with a chuckle, and listeners immediately dive into “Failed Diss Track,” which, despite the name, doesn’t feature disses, only a unique mix of electric guitar riffs, piano, and a lot of GarageBand-type percussion.

After listening to the “Five Dollar Album,” one must wonder whether it was originally intended to be a musical endeavor before it veered wildly off track. Of the 27 pieces listed, only a handful were legitimate songs, or at least amateur guitar solos. I genuinely wanted more of them. All the others were just random streams of consciousness, like when Stewart and Arts & Entertainment Editor Emma Linderman discuss variations of ASMR in “Wowie Idk What The [expletive] This [expletive] Is Istg.” “Victor’s [expletive] Guitar Demo” was an actual guitar solo and ended off the album quite nicely, legitimately adding character to the project. That’s not to say that there isn't much character already present in the album. From the start, we know who we’re dealing with: a pair of people who venture off to create something that represents the soul of the Humor Department while consciously or unconsciously refusing to adhere to the standards of normal music.

There remains one question: Why is it called “The Five Dollar Album”? Find out in an exclusive Issue 5 interview with Stewart.

This is lentil soup
It is not gross goop
I don’t have to pay for it, that’s good.