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.
Tonight’s edition of the Independent Spotlight is a peculiar one. Tomorrow, September 18, Those Shadow People will be debuting their latest studio effort. The outfit, which hails from Denver, has quite an extensive lineup - the band collaborates heavily lyrically and said lyrics are augmented by a massive backing consisting of trumpets, guitars, synths, violins, and more. The album is ‘When the Lights Go Out.’ Now, what exactly is it?
The band classifies themselves under a myriad of compellingly unique genres; “folktronica,” “neo psychedelia,” and “underground hip hop” to name a few. Furthermore, the album includes a copy of a digital graphic novel. This companion comic, aptly titled ‘Issue #2,’ is a fascinating, well-executed story with beautiful art. As someone who grew up surrounded by comic books and their fan-base, I found a lot to appreciate when delving into the booklet. It was quirkily interesting, adding a dynamic layer on top of ‘When the Lights Go Out’ that few albums can lay claim to.
‘When the Lights Go Out’ opens up with its title track. To be blunt, I was skeptical of the album from the get-go due to its self-classification. How can a record be simultaneously soul, hip hop, and folk...tronica? Well, the album actually manages to pull it off. The opening track elegantly combines soft, soulful lyrics, soothing violin lead, and droning, atmospheric electric guitar with a wonderful layer of fuzz.
The song is incredibly rewarding to listen to on a quality sound system. When I review music for the Spotlight, I do so in an actual studio on industry-grade monitors. This can be a blessing and a curse: independent music tends to be chock-full of production and studio flaws and I catch them easily on this setup. Those Shadow People navigate that landscape remarkably well, not faltering once in the production. The sonic intricacies that erupt around 2:20 in are magnificently awesome. They’re even followed by a jazzy brass section that segways into indie rock influence.
‘Give It Up’ is a stark contrast to the title track. It seems to more fully employ soul and R&B influence. The song has some sections that are infectiously catchy, reminiscent of a good Motown groove or an Arcade Fire single. “Darkness in the sky isn’t what it seems to be,” the harmonious lead vocals croon over a funky bass line and superb percussion. I dig how the band utilizes panning in their production, too. I frequently found myself leaning from one monitor to the other to detect different pieces. (For example, halfway through ‘Give It Up,’ the atmosphere of the song builds up as the piano and synthesizers hold down the fort on the left as the electric guitar rises from the right.)
I’d argue ‘Searching’ is the sonic twin to ‘Give It Up.’ It’s very similar in style and musicality. With that said, the song has a different level of depth to it. There’s some excellent instrumental banter as the song descends into a haunting latter half. A new song unfolds around the four minute mark, eerily rising from the ashes of soul to inhabit a scorching rock and roll body. Hell, I’d also argue that the latter half of ‘Searching’ is the best instrumentation of the record. That composition takes you to an entirely different place than the former half of the song. It’s nothing short of spectacular.
Now, Those Shadow People’s new EP is three songs long, but when you pick it up this week, make sure to get your hands on the four tracks available. The fourth and final song is a remix of the title track by New Bang Productions. To put it simply, it’s basically a dance remix. It balances house and dance intricacies in an electronic soundscape perfect for the dance floor. While I’m not particularly a fan of the genre, I do appreciate Those Shadow People’s addition of a remix that is actually worthwhile. If you’re going to put out a remix as 25 percent of your release, it better be a remix that isn’t redundant. This one isn’t at all; it’s worth your time.
Needless to say, my verdict on Those Shadow People’s ‘When the Lights Go Out’ is overwhelmingly positive. It’s a sharply written, insanely well executed jaunt through half a dozen different genres and influences. From start to finish, it’s consistently engaging and the EP challenges the listener to play an active role in the experience. It can be passive music, sure, but it’s a whole lot better when you sit down and really absorb it. Check out the album tomorrow via the Band Camp link below. They’re worth supporting.