Rousing Flow - 'Play Music'

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.

Readers of the Independent Spotlight know that Garageband is my go-to when I refer to shoddy self-production, particularly in the hip-hop community. For all of the shots I fire at it, however, I do understand its potential. It’s a remarkably good digital audio workstation for a beginner that has versatility unparalleled in comparative suites. Hell, I learned my way around recording in Garageband and both the Twin Thieves records and the first two Underground Oceans records used it. Why am I rambling about Garageband? Well, it’s an integral part of Rousing Flow’s sound.

When Rousing Flow prefaced his record for me, he explained that it was an endeavor consisting of his old bass, his son’s cheap guitar, and Garageband. He’s distributed the record across all digital platforms and a few of the tracks have picked up serious steam. (Try 110,000 spins on one.) Thus, Rousing Flow pushes the boundaries of its simplistic workstation to create a compelling instrumental effort weighing in at a lengthy twelve tracks. The album is ‘Play Music.’

First, let’s hammer out what is good about ‘Play Music.’ As aforementioned, the effort doesn’t sound like it was recorded in Garageband. Tight percussion accents slick guitar and bass banter and atmospheric synths envelope each track in mystery. The songs are lengthy and seem to be divided into movements of sorts: you’ll often find songs like ‘Intimate Heat’ and ‘As I Please’ breaking jams down into segments that alternate. (The latter is one of the best exhibitions of Flow’s skills on the bass.)

Genre-wise, ‘Play Music’ seems to hop between a handful of influences. The bass can be quite funky, as can the beats. Almost every track is soaked in heavy reverb, creating varied soundscapes throughout. ‘Trust Me’ does an impressively good job of creating a western-like landscape that distorted, moody guitar sifts through note by note. Some tracks build even more elaborate experimental vibes, such as the elegant ‘Handprint.’

Nothing on ‘Play Music’ is going to get you riled up or anxious. It’s a very soothing, melodic record that feels introspective in nature, as if Rousing Flow is telling sonic stories without any words. Sometimes hints of rock and roll peek out from behind the trees, as is the case on the epic ‘Not Yet.’ String sections also accompany Flow from time to time. Having experimented with synthesizers extensively in the past on Garageband, I can vouch for its versatility in this regard. Some of the preset instrumentation in that DAW rivals much better paid suites. Rousing Flow uses everything to his advantage and ‘Play Music’ is a triumph of simplicity. It only goes to show that the program doesn’t make the musician.

Highlights on ‘Play Music’ include ‘Note Yet,’ ‘Leather Impact,’ ‘Warm Breath,’ and the lengthy ‘In Haze,’ the track that has garnered significant recognition online. ‘In Haze’ reminds me of something off ‘McCartney,’ Paul McCartney’s debut solo record which experimented with very similar instrumental styles.

Now, onto the ‘not so good.’ Fortunately, there isn’t much of it. ‘Play Music’ is a well executed collection of songs that feels intelligent and creative as can be. With that said, it becomes far too comfortable with itself and many of the songs blend together. It’s hard to differentiate one from the other and many songs feel like pieces of one larger track. In terms of continuity, it makes the hour-long experience flow well. In regard to making the album consistently interesting, this causes it to falter and lose drive at times. It probably could have been suited better by eight or nine tracks rather than twelve.

The production of ‘Play Music’ is pretty sharp for the most part. I was impressed by the experience and it was well at home on my professional studio monitors. A few pieces do feel under-produced, however, and the electric guitar in particular feels underwhelming and too bassy at times. The quality of the percussion is impeccable, though, and I can’t differentiate it between a live drum recording and a machine. (It’s probably the latter, at least, judging by the info I got from Rousing Flow.)

‘Play Music’ is a fantastic record well worth your time if you enjoy grooving instrumentals. It’s an effort that slides itself into familiarity after a time, but I suspect Rousing Flow will amend that in his next release. For a debut, it’s difficult to beat and I commend Flow’s ability to take simplistic software and equipment and create such an elaborate, massive sound.

Check out Rousing Flow on Sound Cloud: