As a fan of the bands on the edges of the DIY world (I don't need to hear another band that sounds like Bad Religion, when I already have a perfectly good Bad Religion...) I spend a lot of time thinking about bands with pop aspirations who have embraced DIY ethos. Does the fact that an artist probably couldn't rattle off their top 10 favorite Dischord bands diminish them in our artificial hierarchy? “Oh, that's not punk rock, that's pop!” We say with a dismissive air about bands who have committed the unforgivable sin of being polished and well produced. I point this out because I'm as guilty of this as the next punker-than-thou despite it being a really stupid counterproductive mentality. But also because I'm really digging this new record by indie RnB artist Kevin Michael despite the fact that much of it is total Top 40 material.
Part of this stems from the fact that Kevin Michael seems dangerously close to pulling off what basically everyone (myself included) has spent the past decade trying and failing to do: being the new Prince. Where most artists attempt to sound like Prince by embracing synths and singing about really filthy sex, on Brainwa$h Kevin Michael focuses on the thing we often overlook about Prince's best material: how damn weird and personal it can be. There's a lot of depth to the production here. The synths are often squawky and squeaky, but not in the oh-so-trendy dub-step kind of way. Highlight “Gone” makes fantastic use of all the synth patches most bands pass on as “too ridiculous.” Pitch shifts, sampled movies, glitch effects, and unconventional song structures all work fluidly, and always in service of strong melodies.
The only question with this record is if the mainstream still has room for music that's conventionally poppy but loaded with unconventional and personal touches. And if not, the mainstream's loss is the underground's gain as far as I'm concerned. The record is currently available via Kevin Michael's bandcamp page on a pay-what-you can basis. Check it out below!
- Words by Nathan Leigh
- Photo by Steven Duarte