What a time to be alive; for most, 2020 has been a cruel dealer at a slanted table with a rigged deck. I realize this is an unconventional way to begin a review, but I want to just acknowledge the will of all the musicians, creators, and you, their supporters out there, who continue to find ways to provide and digest this earfood for the tired minds and bodies that truly need it. From me to you all, thank you. Now let's blast into this exciting new record.
Folks, 'dem Carolina boys done did it again. With their sixth studio release titled Escape, the sound pioneers BIG Something deliver a potent snapshot of where they are as a band, where they've been, and where they're going. Escape is a breakaway from the desert trials of the nomad that their last two albums followed, and though still a conceptual collection of tunes, this album is different in all the right ways. This is not to say that the records preceding were not excellent, but this band is growing and this album is demonstrative of it. Simply put, as the kids say, this entire thing is a vibe.
The 11 track Escape opens fittingly with an intro piece which shares its name. "Escape (intro)" immediately serves as a launching point, listeners familiar with the sextet's sound will find the eerie distorted vocal samples reminiscent of their earlier work as a nod that indeed, this is a BIG Something. This song initiates a launch sequence, paired with some quick vocals from Nick MacDaniels in his patented smooth hip-hop-esque cadence. This breaks into "Timebomb," released early off the album as a single. MacDaniels' voice dances between the notes of Casey Cranford's brass while Doug Marshall lays out a pulsating bass line. This is a head bobber that poses the appropriate question, "where did all the time go?". The vocal samples return here as well, keeping a nice consistency. The pulse of Escape continues with "Heavy," another single. The vocal effect here is a nice touch as the bass thumps right through the speaker. Axe master Jesse Hensley lets the notes from his solo linger just right, a quality of his playing I have always admired. The snare drum on "Heavy" accents the bass hits perfectly. Onwards.
At first I was having trouble putting my finger on "Dangerous," but it has grown on me with each spin. The licks are head stickers, and again Hensley plays just the right amount of notes to lead this to its climax. If you're looking to anoint Hensley a "slayer," go ahead and put this in your pipe. Ben Vinograd does filthy work on the cymbals in this slightly dark offering. Moving right along to "The Breakers," the keys of Josh Kagel propel this number. It has a bit of an emotional charge to it, which in their studio releases BIG Something is effective in using to show a bit of fragility before pulling it back just before the listener can pin it. This quality is another ode to their roots. "Static," the longest track on Escape finds the sax and the drums playing off one another, bookended by hovering guitar notes. True to its name, "Static" moves the listener through an electrically charged cosmic field.
"Getaway," a synonymous sibling of the album title, is a shuffle backbeat, the lyrical content of which is textbook BIG Something. The latest installment in the saga of Pinky, once again on the run from Johnny Law. The wordplay amidst the writing shines with this right out of the gate, "I hear his [Johnny Law] pistol ringing in the sky, hear the sirens singing in the night, whoa flashing lights in the distance." The EWI and keys provide siren sounds while the fan favorite character makes a break. Next comes my favorite three minutes and forty five seconds of Escape. "Silver Cord (interlude)" is a beautiful, delicate, all instrumental soundscape. The track itself is this melodic sort of day dreamt hallucination. Kagel's trumpet returns the ear to clarity near the conclusion. Something to note here is the placement of the tune. The chronological order of song arrangement on this album is genius. Constriction and release, tension and culmination, all woven throughout the work as a whole. Both from a macro gaze and a conversation in between the lines. "Afterglow" finds Marshall at work with low end again, and brings back the digital frequency noises fans have become accustomed to. "Afterglow" strikes as a blend of "Static," "Silvercord," and itself. The vocals are subdued a bit which fits just right as the dance break from the EWI stamps this one right in the middle (the middle of nowhere!).
The penultimate "Machines" punctuates the soft, porcelain side of BIG Something. It is a simple strumming song, emotional, and comforting. When listening to "Machines" I am only left with this notion that life should be easier. This ballad is a reminder of the fleeting nature of humanity, and the onset of automation. Again, the placement is as significant as the lyrics. This brings us right to "Heavy (reprise)," as the band exists on the return of the Daft Punk like rhythm from the tune's main body. In an ironic twist, the lyrics "coming to a town near you," injects a sliver of hope into my bones.
Wholly, Escape is such a capsule of BIG Something. It returns to the dancey beginnings of the group while continuing to explore new sound, displaying vulnerability and confidence at the same time. John Custer and Bill Stevens have done a top notch job on the production end, and I hope that like me, this record finds you pressing play over and over again. Friends, cheers, the next round is on me when we escape through this together.
Written by Charles Frank