Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
Typically when I tackle an artist on the Independent Spotlight, I have quite a bit of information about the artist to give some context to the music. Here, though, I was submitted one simple link, a Spotify album called ‘Runaway.’ The artist, Sal. (Though he now goes under ‘Rawzilk.’) I did however do some digging and discover that Rawzilk’s inspiration for the record was glitch art, old VHS tapes, and the melodrama of crime films. Beyond that, I went in blind.
There’s something special about a good experimental music artist. Music is already one of the pinnacles of creative expression. When you take it into a realm that causes the audience to question whether or not it’s even music - that’s where you’re truly standing independently in your madness. ‘Runaway’ is an experimental noise art piece - That’s the best way to describe it. Songs don’t often have a coherent beat or structure; it’s an eclectic collection from an eccentric musician.
Rawzilk prefaced to me that the title track and ‘Cruel Streets’ were particularly long openers that I could skip over due to their length. Long tracks? Challenge accepted. I’m actually quite glad I did listen to these two tracks in their entirety. They lay the groundwork for ‘Runaway,’ albeit in an elongated fashion. ‘Cruel Streets’ is an exceptional piece, leaving behind the noise art pastures of ‘Runaway’ for something slightly more coherent with haunting piano and synthesizer pieces. At times, it feels like something straight out of a Halloween themed ride. ‘Cruel Streets’ should prove more palatable for someone who doesn’t ‘get’ some of the grizzly and noisy stuff in the title tune.
This album seems to consistently challenge the listener. That’s exactly what good experimental music should do. It doesn’t spoonfeed you songs you can hum all the way home, it forces you to take a more active, less passive role in the experience. Often these songs feel like fragments, as if there were ten coherent sonic portraits that were broken into pieces and reorganized into ten new songs. ‘IV’ certainly plays with this dichotomy between chaos and order with several landscapes of peculiar sounds.
Excuse me - I have to go on a bit of a history rant. I love listening to something like ‘Runaway’ and thinking about the historical context of this creation. When I was listening to ‘IV’ and the title track, Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’ was riddled throughout. Why? Because his bizarre 1975 experiment tricked a massive audience into buying a record that sounds a tad like what you’re hearing here. Now, exactly thirty years later, ‘Runaway’ certainly exhibits where that genre went. (Rant over!)
‘Frame’ includes some veiled lyrics, but in honesty, they’re so immersed in the atmospheric production, I can barely understand them. (Nor am I sure if they're in English or not.) Spotify alerts me to their explicitness, but that went entirely over my head. ‘Frame’ is the first track that could honestly stand as a ‘standard’ or ‘typical’ song. It’s experimental, but definitely has a time signature and structure. It’s something you could actually tap your foot to.
‘Cerulean’ combines the elegant atmospheres of the previous tracks and the dark, gritty noise of ‘IV’ into a very intriguing beat. Again, this is a track that certainly stands on its own as an instrumental than a piece of noise art. To be honest, it’s a tad grating on the ears. The reprieves (Such as the one at 2:00) offer much needed rests from the thrashing beat.
‘Bad’ is a surprisingly smooth track. It’s five predecessors dabble in some grungy sounds. ‘Bad,’ however, is five minutes of smooth beats and eloquent synthesizers. It’s a bit funny - ‘Bad’ puts you in a soothing, quiet place. Then, when you hit ‘Framed,’ the following track, you’re dipped back into a dark pool of distortion and confusion. ‘Free Spirit’ may be the most intense exhibition of that confusion.
The twelve minute epic, ‘Criminal,’ is one of the most excellent instrumentals on the record. In actuality, it assumes a very similar texture to that of the title track. I’d argue that ‘Criminal’ would have been a better choice for the opening of the record, scrapping ‘Runaway’ or shortening it down. ‘Criminal’ feels purposeful in its length, something that’s difficult to achieve. I’m not sure if ‘Fugitive’ does that. ‘Fugitive’ follows at over thirteen minutes, and while exciting, it proves just a tad too long. This last experience feels unnecessarily bloated. It does have some compelling musicianship, though, and is worth your time as long as you’re finishing out the album.
I love a good experimental album. The problem, though, is that is very, very hard to make a good one. For a genre that has no limit whatsoever, there is an abundance of complete crap in it, especially in the indie scene. ‘Runaway’ is a surprisingly palatable and interesting effort. It runs a bit long, but it certainly has its moments and stands resolute as a beacon of hope for the experimental scene. Check it out on Spotify below.