Album: Strength and Kindness
Artist: Someone Else’s Nightmare
Reviewer: Alice Neiley
Real instruments! Funk/Jazz fusion! Miles-style-post-bop! Oh my!
Strength and Kindness, a versatile, multi-genre album by California based band, Someone Else’s Nightmare, embodies its title perfectly—the nuanced differences between strength and kindness, but also how the two traits, and more generally, all of our human idiosyncrasies can blend together and illuminate each other. This mostly instrumental album doesn’t box itself into any corner, and instead, invites everyone into the middle of the room to dance. I can’t think of a universe where this band, or this album, would be anyone’s nightmare. From jazz to funk to bop, from profound lyric to call and response instrumental improvisation, there’s bound to be at least one part of this album that is, instead, of everyone’s dreams.
The first track, “Destination Nowhere,” establishes the musical world we’re dealing with—not the usual synthesized instrumentals that coin the modern ‘fusion’ genre, but an acoustic wonderland of skill. Beginning with a solid bass line, this opening tune playfully layers on sets of seemingly improvised piano riffs, a swing drum beat, and of course, the staple of contemporary jazz, the saxophone.
The album shifts into R&B funk genre with “Yard Full of Joes,” “Worker Bees,” and “Generic Happy Song.” “Yard Full of Joes” features a bluesy electric guitar riff on top of a rock-like drum beat, which, when layered with saxophone, organ-synth, flute synth, and eventually bass, spin the track out into a party of instrumental overlaps, grounded and always lassoed back with a sax solo.
“Worker Bees,” on the other hand, starts in on its party immediately. I can barely tell which instrument arrives first—synth keyboards, sax, a furious and fast drum beat, and flute burst on the scene at the same time, though like “Yard Full of Joes,” the sax solos ground the tune firmly in jazz; the ‘fusion’ are the sporadic instrumental flights of fancy, like around 2:20, when the synth increases in volume and technique, and vocals suddenly enter for the first time on the album!
The title track “Strength and Kindness” takes us back into a more exclusively-jazz genre piece, beginning with a 70s-R&B like drum beat, only to become deeply felt jazz the moment the harmonizing horn section arrives.
“The Light Will Show the Way” keeps a great deal of that jazzy feeling throughout, enough so that it doesn’t feel like the same kind of fusion as the other fusion pieces mentioned. However, this track very quickly layers on a prophetic lyrical rap—“peel away the mask/and consider amends/drown the sorrows/so you might cleanse/because I am awake/there is infinite life”—and the timbre of the chorus vocals themselves hint at reggae as well. But the jazz always re-emerges. With…you guessed it, saxophone.
The album flies back into fusion again with the misty, ominous “Drones,” the punchy ditty “Generic Happy Song,” and the bulldozing “Snake Hair.”
With its slow, music-box-like keyboard and flute/sax duet, “Drones” is probably the most shocking tune on the album, not only because it’s much more tender than what its title suggests (a certain aggression) but also because of how it evolves from its mild, sweet beginning beginning to its chorus of bee buzzes at the end.
“Generic Happy Song” and “Snake Hair” both incorporate more rock into their fusions—“Generic Happy Song” through its electric guitar, impressive saxophone solo that sounds like it could easily belong on a Dave Matthews Band record, and pop-ish melody; “Snake Hair” through its driving drum beat—fast paced and heavy—as well as the continuous trade offs of focus between bass solo, horn sectionals, saxophone solos, synthesizer riff, and eventually the eruption of mismatched sounds toward the end.
“Lonely Town” takes the album down an energetic peg again, plunging into the R&B genre, both in rhythm and instrumentation—synth keyboard lines, sexy slow drum beat, and sultry sax—not to mention the gorgeous, deep, melodic vocals. Probably my favorite song on the album, not just because it’s so old-time R&B jazz (which is my favorite genre of all), but because it’s done so incredibly well, complete with a chorus of vocal echoes at the end, finishing the song off like a modern, torchy version of something Sam Cooke might have done.
“Again Dawn,” last but not least, ties the whole album up in a swirl of genres and instruments. Sans vocals, this track dances us to the end of the compilation with gusto and skill, somehow tying the best strings of each genre neatly together through bouts of improvisation, with, again, spot on skill and interpretation.
That, of course, is what makes Someone Else’s Nightmare most interesting: regardless of your favorite genre of the ones that get thrown into the fusion mixing pot on this album, you have to give these guys credit for mastering every single one separately, as well as when they’re woven together. Strength and Kindness an incredible soup for almost anyone, because even if you don’t like potatoes, you can spoon up plenty of bites with just peas or carrots or chicken; if you don’t like R&B, there’s jazz; not into jazz, there’s rock; none of those appeal, well, when you throw jazz, rock, R&B, blues, and bop together, it makes a whole new genre, so have a taste—you’re bound to ask for more.
Reviewed by Alice Neiley
Rating: 5 stars out of 5