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 edition of the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be delving into a rather unique artist. Michael Wheeler, who operates of the moniker of Misha Kolesoski, has released his latest studio effort: ‘The Catacomb Suburbs.’ The eclectic and peculiar record is a musical retelling of ‘The Castle of Otranto,’ an eighteenth century novel widely regarded as one of the first pieces of gothic literature. That’s certainly quite a landscape for a concept record. Let’s dig into it.
There’s something inherently dark about ‘The Catacomb Suburbs,’ so much to the point that you’ll get a chill down your spine when you lock eyes with the eerie album art. Now, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from an artist retelling a classic gothic novel. I sure wasn’t expecting electronic music tinged with EDM influence. ‘Dramatic Studies in Forensics’ is a brooding, eclectic number that rises and falls with a dark feeling of urgency - perhaps even with some dubstep influence dabbled throughout.
‘Dramatic Studies in Forensics’ doesn’t necessarily set the tone for the record, though. A guest vocalist, violinist, and cellist join Kolososki on ‘Eden in Foreclosure.’ There’s an equally eerie atmosphere to the tune, but it has a much softer, gentle feel than its predecessor. Vocalist Chloe J. infuses a soft pop influence into Kolososki’s music. She’s accentuated in a haunting fashion by the two string instrumentalists and ghostly wind howls matched elegantly with sparse piano instrumentation. The dynamic here is incredibly intriguing to me, if not just due to the drastic tonal change from the opening song. It’s particularly compelling that Kolososki is using paraphrased bible verses for the lyrics, too.
Very much in the trend of mixing it up with each new song, ‘Ghosts’ features the talented Karina De Santiago singing in a foreign tongue. She’s matched by jarred, somewhat disconjointed electronic instrumentation. Oddly enough, the contemporary electronica influence dances well with the snappy foreign delivery and minimalistic string sections. As you dig deeper into ‘The Catacomb Suburbs,’ it’s just increasingly impressive and odd that it’s all coming from a guy who lives in Oregon.
‘Bianca’ may be the most dynamic and provoking track of the first half of the record. It contrasts Kolososki’s established electronic style with a flutist, trumpeter, and a different cellist than before. Kolososki’s tight backing beat, something that would be equally at home in a hip hop production, accents his guest performers wonderfully. The flute is the standout, with the trumpet faltering into the mix a bit more than you’d like. Thus, it really feels like a flute concerto of sorts. The piece is a vehicle for Daryl Jones to really excel in his craft. (The flutist.)
On ‘Isabella,’ Chloe J. returns alongside with cellist Dahoe Cheong for another pop-infused tune. Even though the vocal pieces and instrumentation are rather soothing, I still found myself somewhat unsettled by the reverberating choral voices, like ghosts dancing between my speakers. I’m absolutely positive that is Kolososki’s intent - this is based on a gothic novel, after all. I dig this - it makes it different with a more unique flair than your typical electronic-infused pop ballad.
‘Theodore,’ now featuring vocals by Bobby Yaps and lyrics by Jeannie Nadja, continues Kolososki’s trend even further. One could most certainly argue that the tune is a soft indie rock number lathered poignantly in synthesizers and sonic intricacies. Yaps does a particularly superb job here on lead vocals, especially in the department backing himself up. It’s very well mixed, too.
‘Recordar el Pasado’ takes a direction back towards ‘Isabella,’ really embracing that EDM and pop influence. Karina De Santiago returns on lead vocals. It’s a bit of an interesting dichotemy between Santiago’s foreign performance and the English sample of ‘Fantasy Girl’ a song featuring Angela Fleming produced by Kronstudios. For a rather good record, I think ‘Recordar el Pasado’ is a noticeable lowpoint. It feels a tad like a hodgepodge of previous songs constrained by a tethered EDM beat that never really comes into its own. That said, it’s still a very well executed song. For a lowpoint, it’s an admirably high one.
‘Manfred’ only features Kolososki, backing himself with a searing electric guitar and rock arrangement. The vocal sample is compelling, too, really contrasting the sonic quality of Kolososki’s performance remarkably well. Now, around the end of ‘The Catacomb Suburbs,’ after multiple listens and a few hours with the content, I was able to start predicting some of the tonal shifts. Pretty much anything featuring Chloe J. has a similar aura to her previous featurings earlier on the record. ‘The Cinema Landscape’ is a nice exhibition of Kolososki’s lyricism, but it doesn’t bring much to the table that’s new. It sounds a bit too much like the rest of Chloe J.’s outings. I think she's a bit overused on the record, especially in light of the next song...
‘Matilda’ offers the strongest female vocal pursuit on the record. Anna Belle is absolutely stunning, beautifully cascading from note to note with immense tact. ‘Matilda’ is one of the best songs of the whole record due to her performance. The song is also accessible, so if the eerie gothic vibes of the early tunes discomforts you, this’ll be a good entry point. It actually feels joyful and positive - I don’t know the story of ‘The Castle of Otranto,’ but the music does recognize a massive tonal shift. So does the final piece, ‘Sonnet.’ Alicia Perrone’s voiceover is exceptional.
Right, I’ve yammered on enough. What’s the verdict on ‘The Catacomb Suburbs’? Well, if you aren’t too creeped out staring into the eyes of the deathly white girl on the front cover for awhile, you’re going to discover the album is one of the most masterful, creative, and compelling indie experiences this year. Kolososki brings a whole bunch to the table and leaves his heart out on it, too. Check the record out on the YouTube playlist below and connect with him on Facebook.