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 shine our gaze on Fresh Hats Tight Beats, a Denver-based outfit that aims to blend psychedelic and hip hop stylings into a unique new sonic blend unto themselves. Their fifth record, ‘So Many Things,’ is on the horizon with a Kickstarter that’s attempting to fund a vinyl pressing of the record. Is this an album that should be on your radar upon its release this March, and should you consider aiding the ongoing funding campaign? Let’s delve into the music and find out.
Fresh Hats Tight Beats comes from Nematode Records, the same label that puts out Those Shadow People, arguably one of the best bands in the indie scene right now. Thus, the band is in very good hands, and ‘So Many Things’ has been refined over the course of three years. Over the last several days, I’ve listened to this record about a dozen times through, and if there’s one thing to be said about it, it’s that it feels complete.
From start to finish, the eight tracks (nine with a remix) embrace the level of quality I’ve come to expect from their label. At least some of the Those Shadow People crew are in tow as well, for example, Zach Matthews on drums. Matthews is the backbone of these songs. You simply cannot put out an instrumental record like this and not have a superb drummer holding it together.
‘So Many Things,’ the title track and introduction to the album, has an absolutely fascinating sound. You can hear the hip hop influence; there are some really sharp beats littered throughout this track. On top of that, though, are some stellar instrumental performances. There’s a saxophone and a series of really tactful electric guitar and synthesizer overlays that flesh out the sound wonderfully.
At no point on the opening track is any of the instrumental performance ostentatious. Despite lacking vocals, So Many Thing’s sound is injected heavily with such personality, and each of the musicians give one another equal time. I was worried an instrumental record comprised of mostly tracks longer than four minutes would stray into meandering, even pretentious territory - I have seen that a lot. This doesn’t at all, though, which is such a treat.
‘Difference Engine’ is a track where the keys performances truly shine. The first half of the track has moments that sound like they’re straight out of ‘Goldeneye.’ The latter half, after the drum breakdown, explores more experimental aural territory. The performance feels loose and organic, especially in its final moments as the electric guitar cuts through the silence of the last two seconds. To that end, I’d stylistically align Fresh Hats Tight Beats with jazz.
There are definite traces of soul and funk, however, wonderfully exhibited on ’Parallel Engines.’ The track gets grooving, and the banter between the wah-wah pedal infused guitar and the slick synthesizers is absolutely beautiful. The album really strikes a compelling note on ‘The Waiting Room,’ however, a track that utilizes quite a bit of acoustic instrumentation alongside electronic efforts. Out of the eight tracks, ‘The Waiting Room’ may be most diverse - even reminiscent of world influence.
‘Revealing Clothes’ is an elegant bookend to ‘The Waiting Room,’ employing similar instrumentation in the melody. The song also toys with a vocal sample. It’s a tough one to discern, and I listened to many times over, but there’s something about its inclusion that really complements the atmosphere of the track. My only criticism of ‘Revealing Clothes’ is that it feels like a very long track for what it has to offer; it riffs around the same central theme a minute or two longer than it needed to.
In contrast, ‘Warrior Wizard’ is a track that jams so many different ideas into four and a half minutes. There’s distorted guitars jamming side by side with delicate acoustic musings, and the 2:40 mark is captivating - the point at which the sound reaches a tipping point and lapses back into a softer space.
‘Thunder Snow’ stands by ‘The Waiting Room’ as the album’s next best track. The performances by the band are exceptional on the LP’s seventh track, and piano, synthesizers, and electric guitar are in perfect harmony with one another. It’s arguably the record’s richest landscape.
With that said, ‘Evergreen Moon,’ the closing track, does take Fresh Hats Tight Beats into even further experimental territory with their synthesizer usage. It’s a tune that has a sense of finality to it, making it an excellent closer. Its surreal sound is perfect for easy listening, much like the rest of this album. (There’s also a remix of the opening song by Danger Dave, a rather good little extra that takes the song even further in a hip hop direction.)
Once again, Nematode Records has released an indie gem. At the date of this publication, they’re about $1,000 away from a $2,500 goal with nineteen days left to go. Go fund them. Not only is this record great, but their rewards are surprisingly reasonable. The $5 level gets the digital album, the $10 level gets physical 45s, and the $25 level gets the beautiful custom vinyl. Definitely worth a purchase.