It’s always amazing when you have friends that put you up on new music. In this particular instance, a few friends of mine now living out in Portland exposed me to The Passenger just last year, and I even had the chance to go and see them live. Subsequently, I made the purchase of their independent album, and was pleasantly surprised by their brand of alternative pop rock. There’s a certain sense of self reflection that flows throughout the album, title A Dog Named Bear, that comes when the years pass and you slowly grow from a teen into adulthood. To me, the song that best reflects this is “Gift Horse”: it’s extremely angsty but also celebratory in a certain sense. The thing that I love about the song the most is that it reflects the difficulties that so many of us face in becoming adults, but are either too afraid or proud to admit. It’s ripping and screeching, but also unflinching in it’s vulnerability. It’s loud and powerful but still shows a side of artists and musicians that many times is hidden by onstage and on record personas: one of being fractured and unsure. Definitely a notable song and album from an indie band that will hopefully still be putting out music for years to come. The link to the song is available on Bandcamp at http://thepassengerfl.bandcamp.com/track/gift-horse .
Musically, 2014 has started off pretty promising. I’m not sure if this year will top last year in terms of the really, really good Hip Hop that came out throughout 2013, but if this mix tape is any indication, it could come close. Through HipHopDX.com, I found out about trio After The Smoke and their latest mix tape/EP called Microwaves. And I can honestly that I’ve received my first surprise in terms of music this year. Yeah, it came out in late 2013, but since I’ve already done my 2013 year-end best of list on Facebook, I’ll go ahead and put this into the Sleeper category for the new year. Microwaves is a hazy, smokey and extremely cloudy listen from start to finish. In terms of lyricism, there’s not a lot being said outside of angst, self-reflection and first world problems, but a few publications have gone as far as to compare this free EP to past music from DJ Shadow and OutKast. And surprisingly, they’re not that far off. This project is filled with some of the most trippy, muddy sounds that I’ve heard from an experimental Hip Hop outfit in a minute. Incorporating lots of sing-songy soul, electronic elements and grimy Trip Hop parts, it’s definitely worth the time of anyone willing to take a listen. Though I’m not really feeling Viola Davis’ voice on “Hit to the Head”, it’s still a respectable track out of 14. “OIAM” has a muddy and sloppy but still tight feel to its makeup. But my favorite track on the entire project, unquestionably, is “D.E.A.D.”: Any song beginning with the lyrics, “Are you bored with life?/ I’m just tryna soothe ya pain, tell me who’s to blame…” is undoubtedly going to be a deliciously druggy, self-loathing guilty pleasure, which it is for me. Like a said, the first sleeper of 2014 in my opinion.