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.
In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we dig deep into the music of The Notionaries, a new, rising group hailing from the midwest. Signed by the indie label Brickhouse Music Group, the band is creating a flurry of press around their new debut record, ‘Brave With Wires.’ To better provide context to this record, let’s learn a bit about The Notionaries.
The Notionaries are a “group of millennial artists committed to embracing freedom and creativity through music.” More so, they seem to emphasize good vibrations and uplifting messages in their songs. Thus, they’re akin to acts like Foster the People, Coldplay, or the more recent Imagine Dragons. Right off the bat, this had me apprehensively intrigued, because this genre has become so mainstay in recent years, that in itself, it has become cliche to a certain extent. As always, though, I gave The Notionaries a chance with ‘Brave With Wires.’ Let’s talk about the album.
Let’s break ground with ‘Excited Eyes,’ because I can also touch on the music video for the single. As aforementioned, it’s catchy, very Foster the People-esque, and upbeat. The production is quite good. The band really has a strong hand over their studio work and mix is perfect. (That’s probably largely due to their collaboration with Brickhouse.) Lately here on the Spotlight, I’ve been talking about bands with ‘pop sensibility.’ It’s one of those ‘it’ factors that some bands utilize to bring a new element of excitement to their tunes. The Notionaries most certainly embrace it, and it positively benefits them. It’s pop rock aimed at millennials; I imagine high school and college kids will get a good spin out of ‘Excited Eyes.’
The music video for the single is remarkably well shot. Three young men seem to “throw their cares to the wind” and adventure through a bleak, wintery wonderland. The video creates a sense of childish innocence with the characters, something the lyrics back, too. To be blunt, I’m not sure if the premise of the video is ever made clear; it’s one of those projects that seems to leave its meaning up to interpretation. Man, though, the color grading and shooting of the video is really top notch.
Let’s talk about ‘Royal Ways,’ the second tune off the collection. Its tone, while similar to ‘Excited Eyes’ is decisively different. Again, it’s catchy pop rock. This song in particular explores growing up - the lyrics ponder changes throughout youth, perhaps in a superficial sense. Nevertheless, the song is easy to relate to and oddly uplifting, so The Notionaries fulfill their quota of that ten fold.
‘I’ll Wait’ is a softer spoken tune, though it does walk in the footsteps of its two predecessors. Reverb-heavy vocals align interestingly over a soundscape of synthesizers, thick percussion, and electronic-like instrumentation. Think the Wombats: these guys sound a whole lot like the Wombats. (Musically, anyway. Lyrically, they have a long way to go to stack up to the Wombats.) ‘I’ll Wait’ is still a refreshing track, if not simply due to its reprieve in the style ‘Excited Eyes’ and ‘Royal Ways’ introduced.
‘Made Up’ is actually my favorite song of the collection. It’s quite sharply written and performed. More so, the song made me excited about the band for the first time. It’s similar to the other tunes, but brings a new element of originality to the table that the other songs lack. The composition of ‘Made Up’ is wholly original and had me humming the tune the rest of the day. Plus, that dirty, fuzzy guitar solo is the best bit of instrumentation on the whole record. They need to do more of that more often. Seriously, that section is killer.
‘Bandit’ is my second favorite tune on ‘Brave With Wires.’ It employs many of the elements I enjoyed in ‘Made Up,’ but throws a new twist on them. Lyrically, it’s the best penned song on the album by a significant margin. The rest of the lyrical themes in the collection, while fulfilling, are predictable. The lyrical theme of ‘Bandit’ is exceptional, showcasing the band can write some intelligent lyrics and pair them with fun pop rock.
So, what’s the verdict on ‘Brave With Wires’? It’s an admirable debut, one that’s much better than most debuts. ‘Bandit’ and ‘Made Up’ are the best tunes on the album, showcasing a Notionaries aura that is intriguingly original. The other songs are enjoyable, but predictable romps through expected tropes. Thus, I actually think The Notionaries are quite a good group. I do, however, think that they owe it to themselves to apply that talent to increasingly original ideas. Those latter two tracks exhibit that they can do just that. In round two, I want a full record of that. Regardless, ‘Brave With Wires’ is worth your time. Check it out below.