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 morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we return our gaze to Charles Luck, the leader of the Black Astronaut music collective. His prolific releases have been a recurring theme here on the website in the last few months, and Luck has spent quite a bit of time recently jumping between genres and collaborations. His latest endeavor, a tune called ‘Gems of Zen,’ was co-written and performed by one of the Black Astronaut artists, a female vocalist who goes under the name of Addie.
Though Black Astronaut have their new release classified as ‘ambient’ on Soundcloud, it’s really more a pop song with a house influence. With that said, there is a level of ambiance to the new single; it’s doused in a nice dose of reverb that washes over both Addie’s vocals and the instrumentation surrounding them.
Instrumentally, ‘Gems of Zen’ isn’t a terribly dynamic song. It follows the formula of a typical pop song, so much so that the predictable rises and falls in the soundscape can be eyeballed from the track’s waveform. The song slowly builds, subsides in the mid-section, and then grows to its largest point in the finale. It’s a fairly unremarkable sonic experience, albeit one that’s also not invasive, either.
Lyrically, ‘Gems of Zen’ is actually quite beautiful. It’s very well-written, arguably one of the most lovely creations in the Black Astronaut catalog. “We are skeletons that have entered the gates,” Addie sings in a verse loaded with gorgeous biblical imagery. The vivid songwriting in ‘Gems of Zen’ is splendid.
That songwriting is somewhat buried by a forgettable production. I know that Black Astronaut specializes in hip hop and EDM, and those influences may have been best left at the door with ‘Gems of Zen.’ This song could be infinitely better if the production scrapped the synthesizers and drum machines, slowed the tempo, and scored Addie with a piano and some light string sections.
This tune is well-written enough to offer a fascinating performance. This particular rendition of the song attempts to push it into the corner of being a pop song. What if it had taken less pop influence and more soul influence? That would have been compelling. As it stands, though, ‘Gems of Zen’ is a perfectly likable inclusion in the Black Astronaut repertoire, even if it does leave the listener wanting a more intimate, meaningful version.