Superjail!, the latest release from Pennsylvania musician Jake Joseph, isn’t an easy album to describe. It takes inspiration from classic hip-hop, but feels like it was made five minutes into the future. It’s cold and electronic, but warm and organic at the same time. It jumps between moods and ideas, but it’s still a cohesive whole. Coming away from hearing it all the way through left me nearly speechless at its depth, variety, and energy.
The best way I can think of to put it is this: Superjail! is a wonderful mess of thoughts and atmospheres and genres. Listening to this album is like taking a midnight drive through an area where several different radio stations overlap, except every song flows into the next like it was already planned that way. Individually, each track is a mix of pounding drums, bass that thumps within your chest, crunchy synthesizer leads, and some of the best sample flips I’ve heard in a really long time; all together, it becomes an inviting journey around Joseph’s mind. He’s a one-man banger factory, and his love for the medium of music runs through every second of his work.
This record feels like Joseph’s most personal and expansive work yet—he’s released two albums before this, Screwdriver and Jawbreaker, which featured plenty of collaborations with independent hip-hop artists. But where these were built around the interplay of Joseph’s beats and his friends’ rhymes, Superjail! is one hundred percent his work, his sounds, his production and nothing more. Where these past two albums were short, sweet snacks, Superjail! expands into 16 tracks showcasing the man’s various sounds and interests; however, Joseph knows the art of brevity, ensuring no single song overstays its welcome.
It’s no surprise that so many influences play into Joseph’s own musical output; he is, after all, the man behind the music and graphic design YouTube channel “A Bucket of Jake”. Throughout his lighthearted deep dives into avant-garde artists, strange productions, and the stories behind his favorite albums, you get a real sense that he’s just as passionate about listening to interesting sounds as he is about making them. When listening to Superjail!, I can hear influences from almost every genre and artist he’s covered through his videos—art rock such as Everything Everything and Black Midi, alternative hip-hop such as Aesop Rock and Westside Gunn, ever-so-slightly weird electronica such as Tobacco, and everywhere they all intersect.
Between all these influences, Superjail! manages to accomplish the difficult feat of being experimental without even a hint of pretentiousness. One minute, you’ll be hearing the cinematic atmospheres of album intro “Puke”; the next, you’re hit with a bass-heavy industrial track like “Royal Jelly” which is near-impossible not to bob your head along to. The almost vaporwave-like guitar textures of “Armour” lead into the pounding drums and insistent sample chops of “Veteran”. Some albums would make these shifts feel jarring; others might bury their wide range of influences in inaccessible song structures or difficult polyrhythms. Joseph is having none of it. Every sudden change in mood or genre feels right at home in his world, and he clearly wants the listener to be able to enjoy themselves without thinking too much—but that’s not to say there’s not a genuine depth to his production.
This album has its share of incredible little moments. The transition between the major-key freak-out “Gec” and its minor-key sibling “New Deep” is one of the smoothest beat switches I’ve ever heard, for one thing. “Elephant” shifting from frantic drum samples to a steady groove feels almost magical in how it all falls into place so quickly and naturally. Early single “The Ooze” does an engaging little call-and-response between thick, punchy synth leads and a blues guitar riff with some serious attitude. And that’s only what I think of after my first listen. I’m sure that my many, many future listens to this album are going to unearth more little moments to fall in love with.
If this album reminds me of anything, it’s Baauer’s Grammy-nominated 2020 release PLANET’S MAD, another excellent jumble of ideas that form together into a whole that makes sense. However, where that album reaches for sci-fi glory and rave royalty, Superjail! feels down-to-earth and personal in its production. I can hear the humanity behind every instrument and sample, no matter how synthetic they may be; as the notes of the psychedelic closing ballad “Runaway” fade out, I feel like I’ve been on an organic journey through the mind of someone who cares very deeply for music and just wants to share it with anyone who’s willing to listen. Every sound here feels like it was programmed, sampled, or recorded like a gardener takes care of plants; with care, nurture, and just the right ingredients for them to blossom into an explosion of color at the right time.
Superjail! is a wonderful release, an artistic statement, one hell of a masterpiece, and an early contender for my favorite album of 2021. It’s going to be hard for me to find a record that makes me feel as alive as this one does, front to back. Show this man some appreciation and pick it up on Bandcamp if you can; he clearly works hard on his passions and his work deserves your attention. And although I know he needs to take a break after putting in so much effort on this record, I’m already looking forward to what he does next.