ALBUM REVIEW: Island Man by Brandon Spaulding

By: Derek Spencer

Abbreviated psychedelia with a Midwestern warmth: a world where tripping lasts half an hour and ambiance is antiquated (but still nice to have around once in a while because antiques are nice things).  2001: A Space Odyssey is the length of a commercial and The Odyssey itself is a pocket Spanish-English dictionary.  This is the established world of Indianapolis-based Brandon Spaulding’s first release: “Island Man” (2015), a record that yearns for the dissociated or introspective experience, and yet does little work in the way of carrying the listener along to its intended destination.

One might be tempted to compare the rock’n’roll brevity and high-overdriven sound of Spaulding’s work to The Coachwhips; and yet it seems that John Dwyer never aspired to the sort of youthful idealism and middle-of-America warmth that Spaulding grasps at.  There is something immediately Buffet-esque  at the line “I don’t want to have a plan/I just want to be an island man”.  In fact, at this moment, I truly believe the ‘Island Man’ to be a 21st-century, Indiana-specific adaptation of Camus‘ “Absurd Man”, demonstrating a lazily-heated, Franco-Algerian existentialism (I’ll consult a grad student and get back to you on this one).  Unfortunately, at first consideration of the lyrics, listeners find themselves at an impasse: absorbing some of the droopy-surreal lyrics on this album is necessary to follow the standard psch-noise themes sprinkled through these snippets of sound, and yet, to listen to the lyrics closely is to drag oneself through lines like “you make me want to get hit by a car” and “on this cold winter night, I know it ain’t right”.

While lyrics both colorful and overlookable shine through at times, the vocals sit in the mix very differently across the album.  Perhaps this is because Island Man was recorded on a 4-track in Spaulding’s bedroom, or perhaps Spaulding is highlighting the fractal, disjointed nature of our own voice turned inward, meditating on the very idea of self-critique itself.  In either case, Island Man is an earnest, if not respectable, first attempt, manifested in a collection of songs that may or may not entice the psychedelic inner-self, may or may not connect with one’s longing for a solitary existential existence, but will almost certainly find a home in the basement venues of central Indiana.

Pitchfork Rating: 6.2

Arbitrary Rating: 10,011 grains of sand on an island only you understand

My rating: I might throw it on a playlist alongside The Coachwhips, Pink & Brown, Frankie Cosmos, The Agrarians, Inspector 22, & Henry Rollin’s spoken word material to be listened to while I clean my apartment.

Stray Observations:
– My favorite track actually might be the brief dark-ambient track: “At the Bottom of the Ocean”. It (jokingly) sounds like the score to a movie in which an army of sentient basketballs declare war on the ocean and (seriously) might be a good tone to work more organically into other songs on future releases.
– Spaulding seems like he’s still deciding what vocal style works for him.  While the vocals could never be described as less than average, I personally prefer his “stoned Connor Oberst” style over his “Bob Dylan” moments.

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