On February 18, 2010, after a nearly 5-year interlude, Chicago pop chameleon Hop on Pop released its sophomore effort, Chicken on a Bicycle on Spade Kitty Records.
Building on the critical acclaim of their 2004 debut, As Drawn by Ethan, Age 2, songwriter Todd Leiter-Weintraub and his motley crew of sonic dilettantes return with a new set of ten songs, and a brand new focus. Whereas the success of Ethan was largely due to filtering bits and pieces of Todd’s myriad influences through the pre-conceived context of band and arrangement, the second album takes an entirely different approach. Chicken on a Bicycle wipes the slate clean, and plunges whole-heartedly into multiple genres over the course of 30 minutes, with no regard for consistent structure, arrangement or lineup. The band veers from drum machine to steel guitar, from acoustic strum to electric feedback, from a solo spotlight to a 4-person band, from melody and harmony to dissonance and distortion.
The album opens with “Here,” a terse Devo-esque foray into catchy electronic new wave. “Sheila of the Worms” highlights the acoustic singer-songwriter in Todd, while throwing a nod or two to both Jonathan Richman and Gram Parsons. “Tortured Artist” mimics the debut’s band-centric indie-rockisms, whereas murder ballad “C’mon Angel” is an unapologetic homage to Johnny Cash-style outlaw country. The album then navigates from dynamic rocker to lilting love song, from midtempo sing-a-long to soldier’s soliloquy, from punk/klezmer(?!) instrumental to trance/folk studio experimentation.
In the hands of a less-accomplished songwriter, the results might be discombobulating, and ultimately too ambitious, but Todd emerges as a true pioneer; an artist who absolutely refuses to be genre-fied. He retains a consistent tone and mood throughout; a determined artist with a passion for all music, singing personal songs that speak to the depth of his experiences. It's the culmination the singular, schizoid vision that Todd only hinted at in the debut.
In an era when music is too often streamlined and compartmentalized, HoP is refreshingly expansive, radically inclusive and jarringly unpredictable. Todd draws inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, and filters them through 20-years of honing his songwriting craft. Chicken on a Bicycle is a joyous tribute to eclecticism and to music of every popular Western musical genre.