One of the great thing about being a 90’s babies is that we grew up in a golden era. We didn’t recognize it as such, but there’s a reason why there is so much nostalgia for that period. Everything seemed tailor made for us. Then when as we got older, things got more bland. We couldn’t put our finger on it. But we knew something was missing.
Fast forward to today and we consume media to the point we’ve become morbidly obese. And like somebody who is morbidly obese, we consume these empty vacuous pieces of media, not because we enjoy it, but because we are starving. Starving for something more meaningful, starving for something with more soul, starving for something original–you get the idea. So if we wanna figure out how we can be fulfilled–we gotta work for it. Luckily you have me, and luckily there are artists like boycalledcrow.
Now there’s a reason why I bring up “media” in this album review. First off look at the cover art. Then listen to Clouds and Flurt. So what form of media do you recall? Movies? Literature? Plays? Video Games…?
It’s video games.
Now video game music is an incredibly bizarre phenomena. Since the art form is so new, it’s an accident that most of the music that we liked was even likeable in the first place. Plays always had music, ever since the Greeks, there was always some type of music being played. And since movies were originally an extension of theatre, it wasn’t frowned down upon to be a film composer. Even the silent film era, music was an integral part of the medium.
Video game music was basically a cop out. It was for artists who never fulfilled their dreams. Yet our generation lapped it up. Even today look up game soundtracks of the 80’s, 90’s or early 00’s. Look at the amount of views there are. On paper this should not be happening. How could the music of people who couldn’t make it in the music industry be popular? How did they make music that resonated with people with the lack of hardware, instruments, and studio polish of most major label bands?
So now we get to boycalledcrow’s album Emerald. An album that has refined the music of misfits into an art form.
There are 10 tracks on this album, and boycalledcrow somehow figured out 10 different ways to create a feeling of comfiness. Now unless you wake up on a bed of nails, drink bleach to wake you up, and shower in acid–you, like anybody–should love feeling comfy.
To begin the review let’s start at the beginning, Clouds. The first thing you hear and what is a defining part of this album is the ambience. How does boycalledcrow accomplish this? Mainly through his ability to craft these swirling pieces of background ambience. They always have this really melodic structure even though at first listen they don’t appear to be melodic at all. Rather they swirl around a melody, touching it ever so gently, and then dispersing. Which in all actuality, sounds like what vaporwave should sound like, since it’s sound is so ethereal.
Then there’s this pitch perfect kick drum that introduces the next crucial piece of this album. Which are the synths, which as mentioned before has this video game type of aesthetic. While every track carries this aesthetic, it’s hinted at with Clouds and compounded on with Flurt. While yes, the 8-bit synths in Flurt can at times be distorted and morphs into something atonal–it never really loses it comfiness. Mainly as part of the generation who grew up on video games, the synths carry a sense of nostalgia.
Now I don’t believe I’ve ever made any claims on being objective, but personally anything with that 8-bit video game kind of sound has immediately garnered my attention. I say that it carries with it a degree of nostalgia. As it does for the rest of my generation. Yet not for the reasons that you think. You see, even though people born in the 90’s always talk about how great the 90’s were, it’s almost always never what the 90’s were like. Rather it’s what we wished the 90’s was like.
Growing up you’re never fully conscious of the things around you. Everything floats around you, you never really are apart of the experience. Then the things you do experience, become apart of you to so much a degree that you don’t recognize that it’s apart of you. If you sat anybody down and asked them what their favorite games growing up would be, people would rattle off games like Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy 7, etc. None of those games have that characteristic 8-bit sound. Yet ask any “90’s Baby” what they loved about video game music, and you get the same answer the 8-bit synths.
So with just two songs, boycalledcrow has done something really remarkable. He’s created the musical ambience of time traveling back to the 90’s. That time we briefly remember as kids, and the things that emotionally resonated with us. He’s created a sense of familiarity, a sense of coming home. It would be the equivalent of showing our grandparents old adventure serials of the 40’s. Even if they didn’t grow up on them, it still emotionally resonates with them.
Yet as I said before, even though we all say that we grew up on that 8-bit style of synth, it’s almost always never the case. So now we get to the next song on the album Ghost. This is the more authentic version of what “90’s babies” actually grew up listening to. The ambient tape loops, fuzzy bass, crystal clear percussion, and zombie like moans (which sounds like something out of an N64 game) is more or less what we actually grew up with.
The 90’s and 00’s were a transition period where everything became either incredibly sincere, or either incredibly corporate. You had artists like Kurt Cobain who wrote songs about being sad, and showed how sincere he was by shooting himself. Then you had Biggie and Tupac who wrote songs about being gang bangers, and show how sincere they were by getting shot. I know I’m simplifying things for effect but the fact of the matter is we were not apart of that.
I grew up when Brittany Spears and Boy Bands were getting popular, and if you liked them it meant you were a mouth breathing troglodyte. So by complete accident I, and other people of my generation got funneled into video game music. I mean what other options were there? Listen to music that you had to follow with 100% sincerity, and either be thought of as a wrist cutter or gang banger. Or listen to music that everyone thought was shallow and if you enjoyed it you were an idiot for liking it. Either way we had no say in the conversation, but we did have one piece of media we could like. Without any judgement from our peers. Video games.
Since video game soundtracks had a lot of moods to capture. Think of any video game of that period, and think of the different genres they had to pull off whether it’s the creepiness of a Resident Evil, the since of wonderment of The Legend of Zelda, or the melancholy piano of Silent Hill. When I say boycalledcrow sounds a lot like video game soundtracks. It’s not a pejorative. It’s the highest praise you can receive.
Because if we return to Ghost it is musically an incredibly avant garde piece of music on paper. From the repeating tape loops, to the shifting rhythm, and the zombie like moans–if you were to take this to someone who didn’t grow up on video games–it would be incredibly experimental. Yet for millennials it’s impossible not to feel a sense of familiarity, and therefore comfort in the sound. And it’s all due to video games. From the people who couldn’t make it in the music industry, still trying to create good music. So since they were still trying to create good music, they were going to use the tools of the experimental, underground, classical composition, etc. To create the music we grew to love. And why I believe it’s so easy for boycalledcrow to make such emotionally resonate music.
To illustrate this point let’s look at the next song, Distant. With it’s spacious luscious keys, that has this incredible sense of intimacy to it. Which is a pretty difficult task to accomplish. Capturing a sense of warmth and a sense of distance. Before you listen to it, postulate on how you would try to accomplish it. What type of scenario would cause you to feel distance, and yet feel a since of intimacy? Now that you have the scenario–and here’s the tricky part–what would it sound like?
So I’ll give you my take, and then I’ll offer an explanation of how it’s accomplished. It’s like after an incredible first date, when you have dinner and both of you have this incredible chemistry. Then after dinner, you drive her home, work up the courage to kiss her, and on the car ride back you feel this intense sense of intimacy. The person just left and you drive farther and farther away. Yet the connection you had just grows more and more inside you. How boycalledcrow accomplishes this feat is mainly the instrument choice which provides a sense of distance, and then the music structure which has an incredible sense of warmth. Combine these elements together and BAM! You get a song like Distant.
Next up we have Birds. Now Birds is the song I would show anybody to illustrate how great boycalledcrow is at creating melodic synths. The snyths have this heavenly kind of melody to it. From the spacious keys and textures that reverb throughout the background. To the melodic piano and synth arpeggios.
I always praise artists who understand synthesizers. That they’re not like an electric guitar that you can bend, hammer, or spontaneously interject your own flair to. Yes it can be done on synthesizers, but when you’re dealing with electronic music you need to understand music in and of itself. You need to have a bit of an ear for composition, structure, and general music theory. You’re not a rockstar, rather you become a composer. Replace any of the synths on this track with classical instruments and it would still hold it’s own. Yet it’s boycalledcrow’s ability to use the synths at his disposal, and utilize them in a way that creates this wonderful soundscape.
Now we get to Africa, and no it’s not a remake. This track with it’s 8-bit bass, exotic percussion, swirling pads, twinkling mallets, and synth arpeggios doubles down on the nostalgia. As mentioned previously that 8-bit sound always carries emotional weight since it’s always associated with video games. As a millennial video games were the default medium. But then boycalledcrow does something interesting.
He adds these exotic sounding percussion, and twinkling mallets. Which really adds to the child-like sense of wonderment. So what do I mean by that? Well, the percussion like any the percussion in any great song adds a sense of energy to the track. That, and the fact it’s so exotic, or rather has such a unique rhythmic structure which makes it exotic. Then there are the mallets which even further compounds on this since of child-like wonder. It could be because this sound is so often associated with childhood whether it’s from a music box, or a mobile (the thing above a baby’s crib) it all has that same texture.
Then combine that with a name like Africa. Now as an adult when you think of Africa you think of politics, humanitarian issues, social issues, or whatever. But ask a kid what they think of Africa, and 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be about Lions, Giraffes, Zebras, etc. It’s that child like sense of wonderment that what makes this track great. And showcases how boycalledcrow and create 10 different tracks of 10 different kinds of comfy.
Next up we have Butterfly and Vapor. Both are tracks that start off aggressive. Whether it’s the distorted synth arpeggios of Butterfly, or the sharp snare and growling synth of Vapor. Yet as I said before every track on this album is comfy how can something be aggressive yet at the same time be comfy? Well as mentioned before boycalledcrow has an incredible ability to create great pieces of ambience.
This ambience is able to seamlessly morph, fluctuate, and shift. This fluidity is what’s able to temper even the most aggressive of sounds. Yet it’s the juxtaposition of these two sounds which causes a different kind of comfy. It’s the kind of comfiness you get after working long hours, going on an exhaustive vacation, or being in a social setting for a long period of time. While physically taxing, these tasks are nonetheless relaxing. As the case with this song, the music might aggressive, yet at the same time you can still feel an incredible sense of comfort.
Finally we get two the last two songs of the album, Amber and Grid. Amber can serve as the best representation of this album. All of boycalledcrow’s strengths, of creating beautiful melodic pieces, while maintaining this incredible atmosphere are all in splendor glory here. Yet it’s Grid that’s the real show stopper. With it’s more dramatic intro as the kick introduces these spacious keys, hi hats that create this incredible sense of rhythm, and then an orchestral synth that overwhelms you. This song in particular has a larger than life appeal to it, and is the perfect ending to an already great album.
It’s the kind of ending you’d imagine that audiences would cheer for. As the band is about to pack up their things, the audiences demanding an encore, and then the band plays their most epic song. The band plays to an audience wide eyed, and jaw dropped. Then when they’re done, the audience doesn’t demand an encore anymore. Not because they weren’t satisfied, but because they are speechless.
Every millennial looks back in time and we look at how great the media we used to enjoy was. But the fact of the matter is, is that it was great because WE made it great. I highly doubt any CEO would have predicted that a Japanese Cartoon about an alien fighting other aliens over dragon balls that could grant wishes would be a smash hit. But WE made it into a smash hit. Music industry moguls would have never have guessed that video game music would be as enjoyed as much as it is today, yet here we are. And it is only possible because WE made it possible.
boycalledcrow did something amazing with this album. He showed us all the power that we truly had. That WE have the ability to create an oasis out of a desert. We can make great art that captures the things that we held so near and dear to us. So with that ability to create greatness, and a greatness that is unique to our generation, I give this album my full recc.