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Music Review: Golden Bloom — Fan the Flames

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These days it’s become far too easy for musicians to simply cite their influences since inevitably audiophiles and critics can uncover those just by listening to their work.

However, when musician Shawn Fogel, who plays every single instrument in his August 18 release under the band name Golden Bloom, was asked to offer an explanation and influence-laced play-by-play of his effort Fan the Flames, The Smiths and The Beatles received only the tiniest of shout-outs.  No, instead of just dubbing a guitar hook Wilco inspired the way that nearly every critic has described Fan the Flames as sounding like that band during their Summerteeth era, Fogel’s artistic muses will definitely surprise.

Drawing upon inspiration discovered in everything from books such as Confessions of an Economic Hitman and The Perks of Being a Wallflower and DVDs including Network, and The Atomic Café, Fogel seems to absorb culture and politics like a sponge.

 

And while the rest of us may have wanted to simply shut off our televisions and seek solace in the comedic fake news he also enjoys via Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert over the state of society in the past few years, Fogel chose to sublimate his anger into a creative album that’s become one of the most hotly anticipated discs of the year, earning kudos from SPIN, The Observer, and more.

 

Taking a cue from Radiohead perhaps, Fan the Flames has been hitting the internet one site at a time with each given track landing at a different music site for fans to download for free.  And with this clever strategy, interest has been building steadily in the “power pop” sounds of the man who records all by his lonesome but goes incognito as the faux group-sounding title Golden Bloom, playing live at club dates with a varying roster of impressive musicians. A veritable revolving door of artists who share the stage with Fogel so that no show is identical to the previous one — while the sound of the music may change ever so slightly with Tom Petty shout outs added in as you can witness here — the lyrics of his works remain the same.

 

Moving away from his previous tendency to use his own relationships for fodder in the overcrowded indie rock movement of lover’s lament tracks or confessional, introspective works, Fogel acknowledges the change in the content and finished result, describing the contents of Flames as coming “from a frustrated optimism, or an optimistic frustration.”

 

Again dealing in the topical Radiohead terrain of Hail to the Thief or even Green Day’s American Idiot, Fogel refocuses his energies to “what’s going on in our country and our planet,” by using music to release that frustration into optimism (or vice versa) in regards to former President George W. Bush and those who cheered on Sarah Palin at rallies.

Yet instead of cheap shots or one-line jabs, the lyrics of Flames are creatively articulated throughout and one may not even catch on to precisely what it is Fogel is referencing on the initial passive — driving in your car with the windows down — listen, given the musical framework of deceptively sunny sounding, infectious ditties that comprise the roughly thirty seven minute disc.

Of course, part of the reason you may not catch on right away is because — as has been the trend of late for both music and film — the independent offering is packaged without a booklet or insert that gives us the opportunity to relish in the written lyrics. For those, like this reviewer who is still fighting against the trend of dropping CD production in favor of simply digital downloads in the future, it’s a disappointment as the pleasure of a great booklet that lists the music credits, lyrics, contains photography or sketches is one of our last remaining tangible products that separates the concept of an album from simply a disc you burned from your iTunes download library.

About Jen Johans