Quinn Erwin first came to my attention as a big part of Afterlife Parade, a top-shelf outfit equally comfortable making can’t-ignore-it pop-rock and textured post-rock. Erwin’s Soul EP builds on the pop-rock side of Afterlife Parade, getting crunchier and catchier simultaneously. [Editor’s note: This EP was later re-released as part of the album Initiation, which is what is currently embedded in this post.]
The titular track of Soul kicks off the four-song effort with hammering piano, crunchy guitar, handclaps, and Erwin wordlessly throwing his voice around in some great melodies. There’s a pop-rock chassis to the tune, but from the wheels up it’s all muscly soul attitude and yearning blues vocals. There’s a bit of dance-rock thrown in for spice at the end, but this is primarily an earthy, Southern (but not Southern rock) jam. “Heritage” builds on that earthy pop-rock blend, fusing a stomping backbeat to a scuzzed-out guitar line with some zinging synth on top of it. Erwin’s repeated plea (“Don’t let this be my heritage”) and anguished “la”s give the tune some extra punch (as if it needed any). Both of these tunes have a crunch that wasn’t often there in Afterlife Parade, but don’t sacrifice any of the melodic prowess. If anything, these are even catchier tunes.
“Reality” and “Soul (acoustic)” pull back from the unique vibe of the first two tracks and push the sound in different ways. The straightforward pop-rock of “Reality” does have thrumming bass and insistent snare, but the vibe here is less Southern attitude and more U2-style pop expansion. (You can hear Bono in the wordless, nearly a capella bridge, for sure.)
The acoustic version of “Soul” pulls the excellent arrangements out of the mix and shows that with or without a backing band, “Soul” is a torrential song. Just because there’s only an acoustic guitar accompanying Erwin doesn’t mean he sacrifices any of the attitude or intensity of the tune. The song reveals just how impressive a vocalist Erwin is by putting the focus squarely on his vocal performance.
Soul is one in a series of EPs Erwin is releasing, so we’re going to be treated to more work from him in the near future. And the work is a treat; Erwin’s clear vision for fusing his pop-rock background with other sounds creates distinctive, exciting work. Soul establishes (for some) and continues (for others) the need to carefully follow everything that Erwin is up to.
Soul drops tomorrow, April 29. If you’re in the South, you’ll have some chances to catch him soon on the #OYOUGOTSOUL Spring Tour:
04.29: Biloxi, MS
04.30: Mobile, AL
05.06: Baton Rouge, LA
06.10: Birmingham, AL
I’ve got a lot of singles to catch up on. All these that I’m posting over the next few days have been sent my way over the past two months.
Electro / pop
1. “it was gone” – Orchid Mantis. Somehow combines found sounds, heavily processed vocals, insistent synths and stuttering drums into great clouds of sound. It’s a gem.
2. “Iron & Wood” – Quinn Erwin. Erwin, of the brilliant Afterlife Parade, turns his impeccable songwriting talent toward synth-driven pop-rock. The results are just as dynamic and exciting as his band’s forays into anthemic guitar rock and artsy post-rock. The lyrics, the vocal melodies, and the arrangement just all work together like clockwork.
3. “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” – Summer Heart. The song title and band name are perfect for this tune that balances wiry energy and dreamy vocals to create the soundtrack to a carefree summer afternoon.
4. “Go” – Sunday Lane. Lane isolates the chorus and lets that hook live on its own, letting the rest of the song draw its energy from the perky declaration, “Where we gonna go?”
5. “Everything at Once” – Her Magic Wand. Sonic texture is something I don’t call out that often, but this electro-pop track has some really nice layering of disparate sounds that give the tune a compelling sonic consistency.
6. “We Are Golden” – Nova Heart. Burbling synths, LCD Soundsystem-esque bass riffs, a buttery smooth mood, and luscious vocals make this mesmerizing electro-rock jam an easy fit for the dancefloor or the rock club.
7. “Broken” – Featurette. The herky-jerky rhythms of this tune rub up against the silky synths to create that juxtaposition that plays so nicely in electro: the jagged smooth, the spiky soft.
8. “Shake It Loose” – Astronauts, etc. If you need any suave, svelte, seductive babymaking music, this tune has my vote.
9. “Beachside” – Heather Larose. This acoustic-pop song makes me want to dance in my computer chair. ‘Nuff said.
10. “Tied Up” – Level and Tyson. Scandinavians have the most eccentric lenses when it comes to pop music: we’ve got Surrounded-style distorted vocals, walking-speed acoustic-vibes, ’90s-esque drum beat and some humming background vocals. The results are unique, to say the least.
11. “Lovers Can Be Monsters” – Roger Harvey. Harvey bears the burden of having a voice and genre similar to Ben Gibbard’s, but it would be a shame to pass up this addictive, oddly tender indie-rock track due to unasked-for similarities. I want to listen to this over and over.
Subtlety is not an prized element in Afterlife Parade‘s Death. Still, Quinn Erwin is a surprisingly versatile songwriter for a guy who gives us two title tracks and labels his introduction “Fate: An Introduction.”
After the 41-second intro (“Can’t run, can’t hide, the light is gonna come for you!”), “Death” arrives. The first title track is a complex, affair that unfolds in multiple parts, as the song builds from an ominous acoustic riff to a full-band roar in its four minutes. While it gives a good feature to his emotive tenor, it’s not the most memorable of his tunes.
“Nothing But Love Can Stay” is his best, however, because he eschews subtlety and build for an excellent hook against a stark piano line. It may be uncool to be earnest, but Erwin sounds his best when he’s matching Chris Mills blow for blow in evocative imagery and downtrodden melodies. It’s far more memorable than the opener. It builds to a huge crescendo as well, and I wish it didn’t.
“Arrows Fly” is another eerie track, but this one doesn’t crescendo as much, letting Erwin’s voice do the heavy lifting. The starker Afterlife Parade’s material is, the easier it is to connect with; I’m sure it’s fun to rock (and he’s not bad at it), but the rock pales to faceless when compared to the strength of his weary voice and sweeping melodies. Still, 7-minute mellow songs are tough to pull off, which is why “Simple” gets a bit tedious.
The left hook, however, is the other title track, “Afterlife Parade.” It’s a Springsteen-esque rocker that sounds quite fresh with Erwin’s vocals fronting it. Then the “whoa-oh” chorus hits, and you’d be forgiven for forgetting what the rest of the EP sounds like — just like when the mellow work outpaced the complex opener nigh on 15 minutes earlier. The horns, stomping and clapping only solidify it.
Afterlife Parade’s Deathis an extremely intriguing introduction to a songwriter, but it leaves a lot of questions hanging out there. Where will he go from here? Will we get more of this variety? Will he stick to one path and cultivate it, perhaps making more beautiful “Nothing But Love Can Stay”-style tracks or rousing “Afterlife Parade”s? Who knows. There’s a lot of puzzle pieces in this release, but the picture can’t be put together yet.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.