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.
Last September here on the Independent Spotlight, I lauded the Denver-based outfit, Those Shadow People, for their incredibly inventive music. Their creation, an album entitled ‘When the Lights Go Out,’ not only melded influences in a remarkable way, but incorporated new artistic elements into the equation of an album release, most notably, a comic book. Now, they’re back with a new EP. Let’s talk about ‘Light Siphon.’
The band was kind enough to provide me with a download of their new record even though it’s not yet available. I also got my hands on the new comic included with it, which is issue three. Fortunately for Those Shadow People, I adore comics. So, I’ll touch on the booklet in this review a bit as well. First, though, let’s talk about the new music. The record opens with ‘Balance is Restored,’ a calming, lovely little overture that sets a nice sonic stage for the first real track, ‘Hard Deal.’
In the past, what I loved about Those Shadow People was their impressively experimental nature. They were playing with jazz and indie influence alongside folk, rock, and electronic musings. They are, I’d argue, one of the very few wholly original acts in the independent music scene. That’s a high compliment. ‘Hard Deal’ continues this legacy, I think, though it does so in a different way. The track, which is instrumental aside from some incoherent ramblings echoing about, is rather subdued. Tonally, it’s a start contrast to the intense nature of ‘When the Lights Go Out.’
The second full-length track, ‘Prism Glow,’ introduces the band bombastically with waterfall-like synthesizers and some wondrously catchy hooks. Instrumentally, there is a lot at play here. I’d argue there’s an undercurrent of funk that’s layered upon nicely by electronic themes. ‘Can you feel that prism glow?’ the lead vocalist ponders through a soundscape that’s rather well-produced. I love the synthesizer solos on the latter half of the tune. They’re meaty, intense, and you can tell they’re performed on a real synthesizer, not a virtual instrument.
That authenticity may be worth touching on, too. As an independent critic, I get inundated with bad music. That’s just the nature of things. Often I get fantastic music, too. It’s not often I get music that clicks on the levels that Those Shadow People’s music does, though. Their compositions are intricate, but so comfortable in themselves that they seem simple. I love that. The chemistry is very real and it’s conveyed over the albums. That’s immeasurably important.
‘A Plan Comes Together’ steps outside of the realm established on prior tracks, hitting you in the face with an urgent two-minute cymbal slam before the track ultimately erupts into a cacophony of terrific noise. When the build-up subsides, however, you’re met with one of the most stunning instrumental landscapes you’ll hear in independent music today. Goodness, ‘A Plan Comes Together’ is gorgeous in its second half.
The album closes with ‘Beyond Those Walls,’ a tune that harnesses hints of soul and R&B to craft an excellent composition. The vocal mix of this EP is quite interesting, I think. It isn’t pushed as much to the front as it probably should be, and as a result, the vocals often blend into the instrumentation. I think this is intentional, and I actually also think it’s beneficial. It allows the lyricism and instrumentation to transcend and compliment one another in a most unique way. Typically, I’d have some quips about a vocal mix gone awry, but I believe the one on ‘Light Siphon’ is perfect for what it’s supposed to be.
Now, onto the comic. It’s a hefty offering, clocking in at twenty-three pages in PDF form. (It would be amazing if they did physical copies. They’d be worth getting.) The comic book articulates a story about a portal between worlds that actively creates problems for both of them. (Think ‘Fringe,’ if you ever saw the hit Fox show.) ‘Those Shadow People’ are actually a group of titans of sorts, acting as a pseudo Justice League or Avengers type outfit.
If I was to align Those Shadow People’s comics with comics the public is more familiar with, I’d argue they probably have stronger ties to DC or Dark Horse than they do Marvel. I love the grittiness of some of the characters. Face-painted dudes wielding scythes and pistols, a buff construction worker who fights with an auger, and so on. Those darker themes probably align less with Marvel, the main comic powerhouse people are familiar with nowadays. (Though I’ll concede that ‘Deadpool’ made a strong argument this month for their ability to get outside of their comfort zone.)
The illustrations are lush and beautiful, the story has depth, and the entire comic book is a must-have companion to the new EP. As I expected, Those Shadow People properly blew me away with their new endeavor. Check it out when it drops!