Dylan Brady’s experimental pop troupe finds idiosyncratic takes on late-aughts pop, but gets bogged down by great gecspectations and its leader’s own overwhelming influence.
Cake pops entered our collective consciousness around 2009, when 3OH!3 was ushering crunkcore onto the Billboard charts, the Annoying Orange was YouTube’s biggest meme celebrity, and Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” was the song of the summer. These relics double as tasting notes for Cake Pop 2, the second release from experimental pop troupe Cake Pop, a project of 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady. Mid-to-late-aughts references are baked in (no pun) to the extended gecs universe, as are genre mashups, mood swings, inside jokes, simple pleasures, crushing angst, and the audacious production that makes it all make sense. Cake Pop 2 adapts the gec fundamentals to fit more conventional song structures and a new set of flavors, but the risks are calculated. They tone down most of the funny business (no “Stupid Horse” or Seinfeld bass) while still supplying levity (opening lyric: “Hella scared of bees”), delivering straightforward pop that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Brady formed Cake Pop in his hometown of St. Louis with local friends and collaborators including Aaron Cartier, Ravenna Golden, Lewis Grant, Pritty, Robel Ketema, Kevin Bedford, and Adam Newcomer. The group’s eponymous 2015 EP mixed playtime with explosives and xylophone scales, teasing the chiptuned sugar rushes and Monster Energy-sized caffeine crashes that Brady and Laura Les would later fine-tune with 100 gecs. By the time gecs released their 2019 debut 1000 gecs, Brady’s signature clank had resonated from hyperpop playlists to the mainstream. Now, he’s sharing Cake Pop with his expanded fanbase. But as Brady’s imprint on pop music deepens—with everyone from Linkin Park to Lizzo tapping him for production—his vision is spreading thin.
Cake Pop 2 is a collection of sketches, idiosyncratic takes on pop formulas: orchestral balladry, alt-rap, happy hardcore, Top 40, video game soundtracks. “Satin Bedsheets” calls to mind Young Money’s 2009 smash “Bed Rock” crossed with Tierra Whack and stadium EDM. “Ether” puts Sia-slash-Halsey-esque radio songs through a glitchy gecs filter. The twinkly, dancehall-inflected “Pombachu” interpolates the chorus from Ja Rule’s “Mesmerize,” while the horns on “Boom” throw us back to “Tik Tok”-era party-all-night pop.
At 20 minutes, the album doesn’t linger on any one idea, which can be both a strength and a weakness. Certain standouts leave you hungry: “Cake Happy” works as a short, bouncy duet, but Golden and Grant’s lovers’ dialogue is ripe for a plot twist and another key change. “Whistle” is such a robust, whimsical 72 seconds that you’re tempted to listen twice. At its best, Cake Pop 2 is like a cypher or a dance circle, where everyone gets a turn in the middle and nobody disappoints. The album teases some compelling concepts (“Candy Floss” stages Minecraft on Broadway) and highlights the talents of Cake Pop’s members (Cartier’s “Magic” flow, Ketema’s Auto-Tune reggae stylings), but doesn’t give the artists or their ideas enough room to flourish.
There’s been no shortage of music for gecs fans over the past two years: Since the release of 1000 gecs and its remix album, Brady has produced or co-produced songs for Charli XCX, Dorian Electra, 03 Greedo, Rebecca Black, Rico Nasty, and Pussy Riot, to name a few. By this point, we know what to expect from a Brady-helmed project, and Cake Pop 2 doesn’t challenge those assumptions. The album is a lively introduction to Cake Pop and its members, but as the sounds of Brady’s busy schedule leak in, there’s a sense that we’ve heard most of it before. Though the production flexes to fit the eccentricities of each song, the tailoring could have been closer. Still, for existing gecs fans, Cake Pop 2 is a welcome addition to the rotation. It goes down easy; the sugar makes you want to bounce off the walls. But a cake pop is not a meal.