THERE IS ROCK and there is rap, and never the twain shall meet. At least, it's always seemed that way, after an entire generation's headphones have been tainted by the atrocities of nü-metal, emcees burying their skills under heavy guitar riffs, and the musical war criminal known as Kid Rock. Yet there is hope that these two wond- rous worlds might someday make peace. On Nature vs. City, the latest from local trio Hurtbird, there is most assuredly rock—a lush, yet tempered scenery akin to early Pinback—and there is definitely hiphop. This arrives courtesy of frontman Ryan Hayes, whose tumbling del- ivery is less streetwise emcee and more slam poet tethered to a beat. Nature vs. City is a murky recording of twisted melodies and enough smudged genre lines to confuse even the most nimble-eared listener. You'll trace Hurtbird's kinship to the likes of Sage Francis in tracks like "Dirt," then watch them depart that style entirely for the majestic harmonies of "Traveling."
"We worked on Nature vs. City for three years and felt like we achieved what we wanted creatively with the music and the vocals—which was something lyric- ally cohesive with some pop sensibility," explains Hayes. This incorporation of pop music cuts through the heavy gloom of Nature vs. City like the sun peeking through cracked blinds. It's a satiating glimpse, yet never enough to change the direction of the album.
It's a balance offered by the backing vocals of keyboardist Mike Man, whose contributions balance out the fractured flow of Hayes on tracks like "I Like My Bike" and the album's epic closing number, "Dear Wooden One." During moments like this—where the band effortlessly intertwines both rock and hiphop—it seems possible for these two genres to naturally coexist, and it's a thought process that dates back to the musical upbringing of Hayes himself.
"In junior high I was introduced to rap through a hidden box of tapes I found buried at the bus stop," he explains. "By my seventh grade year I was verbally escaping my shy self by recording raps on my boombox while mentally escaping by listening to bands like Pink Floyd. I guess that could be why mixing rock elements and hiphop never felt strange to me. It just seemed right."