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’re going to shine our gaze onto Joe Blessett, an artist with a new album entitled ‘678AO11.’ The Florida-based artist describes himself as “smooth alternative jazz, soul, and R&B.” The new record is chock-full of all of that, executed in a surprisingly fascinating fashion. The nine tracks are as elegant as they are eclectic. Let’s explore the album and determine if it’s worth your time picking up.
‘678AO11’ opens up with its title track, a jazzy excursion through electronic beats and world instruments. Blessett lays the groundwork for an album that’s highly experimental. The titular track sounds like it would be equally at home in a contemporary jazz club as it would be backing a hip hop artist. There’s something immediately eerie about Blessett’s artistic presence. He doesn’t throw himself into the forefront. Instead, the atmosphere of the track seems to envelope him.
On his social media, Blessett is artfully vague when discussing himself, akin to the way he presents himself in his music. He prefaces that he’s “not an entertainer; he’s an artist.” He doesn’t perform live, and he doesn’t particularly like the sentiment that any of this could make him any less of an artistic entity. He’s absolutely right, too. (Hell, the greatest band of all time hated performing live. There’s a reason the Beatles lived in the studio for the majority of their career.)
I think Blessett’s categorization of his own music is notably modest. ‘The Way,’ the second song on the record, exhibits a songwriter who’s highly influenced by world music. The sonic landscape of ‘The Way’ is jam-packed with the kind of instrumentation and lyrical banter that is often relegated to the ‘exotic’ section of the record shop. Sections of the vocals sound Middle Eastern - they’re rather gorgeous.
‘For Eddie Smalls’ is another journey through electronic-tinged jazz. The saxophone and bass riffing are stunning, and the harmony Blessett creates with his sound is remarkable. It’s very much worth noting that Blessett doesn’t have anyone else credited on this album. Assuming he’s not leaving anyone out, that means the endeavor was crafted entirely alone. Given the depth of these compositions, that’s an impressive feat.
‘I Just Want To See’ is the first tune that begins to incorporate more vocals. They’re not necessarily coherent lyrics; they’re more like a series of samples, but they do provide a tonal contrast to the previous tracks. ‘I Just Want To See’ is centralized around on a very short, repeating synthesizer riff. It takes a cue from drone music, which may create an atmosphere that some listeners find discomforting after nearly five minutes of it.
‘I Can Tell’ is a bizarre, but wonderful hodgepodge of influence. There’s sexy female musings backed by soloing saxophones, which is then contrasted by bouts of auto-tuned harmonies. I’ve said it before on the Spotlight, but it bears repeating: one of my favorite musical inclinations is when an artist takes auto-tune or a similar effect and utilizes it in a dramatically creative way. At times, 'I Can Tell’ sounds like it was taken right off the cutting room floor of Kanye West’s ‘808s & Heartbreak.' That’s a high compliment - West’s auto-tune explorations were amazing on that album.
One point I want to touch on in regard to ‘678AO11’ is its quality as an ‘experience,’ not a disconjointed set of unrelated tracks. (Which I get a lot…) I listened to ‘678AO11’ thrice through, as I do all Independent Spotlight music. During that run-through, I’d often find myself lost in landscape of the album. ‘Understanding Saturn’ flows beautifully into ‘Back to Basics,’ for example. Moments like that are particularly special on this album - it becomes less about the tracks and more about the whole portrait.
The instrumentation on ‘Monday Morning’ is some of the finest on the album. A guitar seeps into the sound, the ever-present sax is in full force, and the rhythm instruments are on point throughout. It’s loose - danceable, even. The track concretes my notion that Blessett should pair with a poet or hip hop artist someday. ‘Living Your Life’ closes the album with its most peculiar track. The mastering seems off, as if it’s ten decibels lower than the rest of the mixes on ‘678AO11.’ The album could have closed with ‘Monday Morning’ to better effect.
I don’t have many qualms with ‘678AO11.’ It’s impeccable, and I think it’s one of the most well executed efforts in the indie scene this year. ‘Living Your Life’ could use some work. It’s the weakest link in an otherwise heavily sturdy chain. Other than that, Blessett needs new graphic design. This album is sophisticated and musically diverse - he needs an album cover that isn’t a model’s ass with the title poorly photoshopped on. This is the kind of artwork I see from on awful hip hop mixtapes. ‘678AO11’ is much better than that.
Thus, it’s a record very, very much worth your time. There’s one track that could use some work, and I implore Blessett to go back to the drawing board on his album art. ‘678AO11’ is an experience unlike anything else in the scene right now, and it genre-bends in very interesting ways. Blessett’s worth following.