NEED finds 3OH!3 returning to their late-aughts party rap roots, and reminding how much current hyperpop stars are indebted to their earworm sound.
It seems impossible to announce that 3OH!3 is back in the year 2021 with a new album, as many not familiar with the typical Warped Tour lineups of the late 2010s would assume the duo had passed either of old age or some sort of irrelevancy-based incident. But against all odds, NEED was released in August, an effort to revisit the sound of their old albums while still reflecting some of the sonic changes that came with the albums that followed their most popular era.
Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte have aged. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the fundamentals of human biology, but their music hasn’t entirely aged with them — the trademark juvenilia that has peppered 3OH!3’s catalogue since their inception is as plentiful as ever. Perhaps as a contrast to this, the duo notably references their mutual encroachment on middle age on tracks like lead single “I’m So Sad,” a mix of their older electro-club tonality and their later pop punk guitar affectations. But despite this over-the-hill acknowledgment, they still do drop familiar lines, like a reference to meeting a hookup in the bathroom after class, which honestly scans more like a sex crime than flirtatious innuendo at this point in their careers. They pass it off nonchalantly enough, however, and their catchy hooks — built on the pair’s longstanding staples of thumping bass, electronic whirls, and vocal effects on nearly every line — tie together songs comparing breakups to underwear skid marks (rest assured, the duo reminds us that they wash out) and ones proclaiming that they should have probably settled down by this point in time. To some, such immaturity will surely be only cringey, upsetting even, but there’s no denying the clear tongue-in-cheek intentionality of the whole gambit, and the somewhat meta result is more lightly charming than creepy for those with more than a passing familiarity to the duo’s work. In a world of artists releasing the same album every 18 months in order to get enough streams to support their lifestyles, it’s genuinely exciting to listen to an effort that was 5 years in the making and that outright refuses to take itself too seriously.
In the late-aughts, a band like 3OH!3 would have been entirely disposable, considered a relic of the previous decade’s radio-pop frivolity. When they released their self-titled debut in 2007, it was easily assumed that they would release a couple more lackluster albums before fading into quick obscurity, as most bands in the party rap genre tended to do. Instead, the Colorado-based duo released a series of major hits, most famously “Starstrukk” and “Don’t Trust Me,” both of which were notable for their playfully crude and crass lyrics and earworm hooks, backed by of-the-time throbbing electronic beats. This would mark the end of the gravy train for the group for a while, as their follow-ups were rooted in a less popular pop-punk sound. Fast forward to 2021, where hyperpop artists like AG Cook and Dorian Electra and 100 gecs have soared in popularity in recent years, and connections to the heavily electronic party rap sounds of early 3OH!3 (and, more broadly, the late 2000s) can’t be ignored. It makes some poetic sense, then, that NEED contains a collaboration with the latter avant-popsters, and reflects the bizarre but deserved twist of fate wherein 3OH!3’s decades-old trendsetting has come to in many ways define the current landscape of popular online music. NEED is a celebration of that influence, while still absorbing some of the pop punk guitars that kept food on the table in the decade it took mainstream audiences to come to their senses. In this, and indeed all areas, it’s a major success.
Published as part of Album Roundup — August 2021.