David Stephenson – Eudaemonia – Album Review
Don’t get me wrong…I’m always up for something that’s off the beaten path. Generally speaking, the only issue with going that route, is the further you follow the stranger facets of music down the rabbit hole, the more you’ll find you end up in a place where the quality drops significantly. I suppose that’s one of the things that makes me appreciate artist David Stephenson more than most of the strange out there…he keeps the quality standards high…he’s one of the bizarre oddities of the scene that has no issues when it comes to passion and production. And sometimes, just sometimes…you’ll even catch him on the ‘normal’ side of music…or…at least normal-er – you feel me? When he wants to play it more straight-ahead, you’ll find the guy’s ultimately one hell of a songwriter really…and when he doesn’t, you’ll find the ingenuity, creativity, heart, and imagination all add up to one seriously sonic adventure.
“Check Under My Eyes” starts the album out with one of its more quaint & unassuming melodies, easing you into David’s world with extremely pleasant Pop/Rock vibes. Notice the smart inclusions he makes in adding things like what could even be an e-bow on the guitar or just really well played drawn out notes that yawn & stretch throughout the sound, or the absolutely stellar backing vocals that play a huge role. Starts out with a real warm glow and clever beginning, then immediately shifts gears into a comforting vibe and melodically inviting song that sounds damn near like being passed right out on the beach while enjoying the sun. Lyrically, “Check Under My Eyes” doesn’t speak to any of that…though maybe having to check eyeballs for moisture could suggest an overindulgence in having some fun out there…you never know. Solid gateway into Eudaemonia though…no doubt about that, “Check Under My Eyes” gathers your attention and retains it quickly through the inspired sound of sweetness & the contrast that exists through the lyrics he’s written. It’s a curious little ditty at the end of the day…and so too, are many of these songs on this record…while a track like “Check Under My Eyes” might sound more straightforward than some by comparison, never assume that Stephenson won’t toss in a twist or two on what you think you know or expect from any given tune on Eudaemonia. His unpredictability is certainly an asset.
He’s got one of the more powerfully emotional moments up front on the record with “Love’s Mansion” – and he’s done an exceptional job on this acoustically-led tune. You could put this cut firmly in the Folk-Indie section and justify that, even with the remarkable Pop hooks that are so subtly included in the flow of his vocal-melody. What you’ll love about this song is the fact that Stephenson audibly reaches for more here, giving you the ultimate in contrast in the depictions of “Love’s Mansion” and all it entails; and just how different that likely is from what you typically associate with love-songs. This is one of those excellent examples of David’s songwriting where he’s able to translate his own specific imagery and descriptions in a genuinely heartfelt way that twists what we don’t know into something we feel like we can absolutely relate to. I really dig the way the music fills in around him, I dig the way the vocals end up having a very hollow & distant feel to them…smartly echoing the haziness in the sentiment of his words when singing about being ‘over-medicated.’ Quite honestly, I think it’s a freakin’ brilliant song – he might describe a few things with brutal honesty, like an “open-ass gown” here & there – but within the subtext of this song, if I’m not mistaken, there lies a true beauty that’s exceptionally rare. “Love’s Mansion” seems to me, almost like it’s describing unconditional love in many ways; I don’t know that to be 100% true by any stretch of my imagination or inference from the words…maybe it’s the feeling here. And don’t quote me on this, but rumor has it there’s a bonus version of this song that might very well appear on the official release when Eudaemonia comes out later on towards the end of November.
The piano-led “Two Worlds Away” beautifully reveals Stephenson’s ability to create songs that connect quickly to the heartstrings…and in my opinion, one of the entire record’s strongest hooks through the chorus he’s written. You could almost hear a band like The Killers going after something like this in their less shiny-Pop moments and more low-key but sincere singles. The piano on this song is a real highlight on Eudaemonia as well; you could definitely make a case that “Two Worlds Away” is by far one of the most straight-ahead songs you’ll find on this album, but never underestimate the power in simplicity. Stephenson sticks to the script of great songwriting on this third tune from his record and absolutely comes out with a win. I felt like “Two Worlds Away” had a truly authentic humbleness to the entire sound and approach David takes…almost more open & vulnerable than the rest somehow as he pours his sweetest tones into the vocals and piano. Excellent selection of sounds and 100% gorgeously well-played, “Two Worlds Away” is one of the most stunningly comforting songs you’ll find on this record – as if audibly suggesting that, no matter how far away love may be or exist, it’s still worth having had the experience. There’s an admiration, a sweetness, a respect, and true commitment flowing through the words & vibe of this tune…everything sounds so impressively organic and natural that I have no doubt whatsoever this will end up being one of the songs on Eudaemonia that people connect with right away.
I played “Days Before Quantize” right after playing “Two Worlds Away” on yesterday’s episode of the SBS Podcast where we previewed David’s new record Eudaemonia…with plenty of good reason – it might very well be my favorite cut on this entire album. As to whether or not we all share that consensus in common…time will tell…all I can ever really do is comment on what I consider to be amazing out there in the independent music-scene, and this song is definitely that. I get genuine chills in listening to this one…from the way the guitar sounds so impressively isolated, to the subtly symphonic atmosphere that builds alongside it as it plays, right up to the brilliant way he sings this song and has his vocals mixed. Reminds me completely of the powerfully emotional work created by Styrofoam…and that’s always a great thing in my books, I think that dude is one of the most underrated creators out there in the music-scene today. So David’s keeping great company on this song as far as I’m concerned. Regardless of whom you might feel he sounds like, or what he might remind you of – let’s be clear, he’s creating pure audio magic with “Days Before Quantize” that resonates right in the very core of all of us listening. It’s got such a gorgeous feeling of distance and nostalgia flowing through it…like a dream unearthed from the unconscious mind that you can grasp pieces of when you awake, trying to piece it all together in examination and self-reflection as you begin a brand-new day. Really smart moments like the shift around 3:10 right before the end of the song also make a real impact; adding in the sweetness & sincerity of his guitar & more pronounced backing vocals in the final moments make quite the finale. The more I played Stephenson’s record over this past week or so, the more I appreciated what I already loved about this song…the more those chills told me that, this indeed might be one of the best tracks I’ve heard through 2019. If I’m being truthful, I don’t know for a 100% certainty that it’s the kind of song that’ll excite or entice everyone to listen to it as closely as I have…but I absolutely think that those out there listening that ‘get it’ and feel this moment as its intended…will never want it to end, just like I did.
“Tuscon” even has him diving right into a whole other language. It’s a really clever cut that reaches into a funky version of dusty & dank psychedelic acid-blues-rock…and Stephenson gets right into the groove. Singing successfully in another language definitely adds some real uniqueness, flavor, and flair into this cut that we haven’t experienced from David before that I can recall…but make no mistake either, “Tuscon” will also show up as one of the bonus tracks from the record in instrumental form, and that was a really damn good move. I ain’t gonna lie to ya – I like the version with vocals in the official lineup of Eudaemonia, but I at the very least feel equally as strong towards the instrumental “Tuscon” that occurs in the bonus tracks. David’s got a genuine way of keeping our attention fixed on what he brings to the microphone quite often…and I think the stylistically slick way he slides his vocals through “Tuscon” really does have us glued to his words for the most part – so to hear the instrumental at the end of the record, it gives you the opportunity to hear some of his music at its most glorious & groovy. I’ll certainly take it in either form; I just appreciate the fact that he’s taken a moment to let the instrumentation authentically shine in a moment of its own by including the music-only version as well. Great bass, accordion, and percussion on this tune…and guitars that are off-the-charts cool in their tone, movement, and texture – “Tuscon” has the exact kind of contagious groove you can feel invading you.
While I’m sure an argument can be made that a record like Eudaemonia never really started out fully ‘normal’ to begin with – you’ll start to hear David creep & crawl into the bizarreness of music evermore so with each passing tune. “Emergency Broadcast System” is a great example of the mid-record point where you can start to realize the shift occurring, while still hanging onto just enough tangible melody that the average listener out there can probably keep up. There’s actually quite a few moments in this tune where he’s got really insightful words working in favor of the theme he’s created, and enticing melody that reveals the sincerity that makes a lot of his more straight-ahead tunes connect so strongly. Personally, I’m a huge fan of hybrid sounds and ideas like he’s got on “Emergency Broadcast System” and think it’s songs like this one that really reveal his penchant for uniqueness and his natural ability to create music that harnesses & harvests the strange beauty you can find in his world of sound. Genius recording on this song, all-around…I honestly don’t even know if I can pinpoint all of what he’s got goin’ on to make it all happen, but I know what I like – and I like this, a lot. It’s about as indefinable as music gets in many ways…the perfect example of a song that you can feel more than maybe make sense of; it contributes to this record in a similar way that songs like “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” did on R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People, or even something like “Texarkana” from Out Of Time. Totally different styles of songs at the end of the day, but ones that faithfully serve the purpose of twisting a record in a new direction that renews our interest in what we hear, and challenges the heart & mind as we’re listening to it. I’m absolutely in love with this song personally…I think “Emergency Broadcast System” is not just one of the record’s most unique tunes, but another real highlight of David’s creativity and abilities to write songs well off the beaten path that still have the power to hold us fully captivated.
“Tryin To Get To You” almost becomes the strangest song on the record in the sense that it’s one of the most ‘normal’ by a longshot. Drawing on the standards of the Blues and the early golden-era of Rock completely here…I ain’t gonna lie, this is a suit that he wears really well…it’s probably just not my own thing as much as many of the other tunes are by comparison. No issues with the way he plays it…you’ll find the rhythm section keeps it classic, while the guitars offer the most personality in the music surrounding him as he sings his way through “Tryin To Get To You.” And vocally, hell, there’s definitely an argument to be made that he’s putting in one of his better performances here…I wouldn’t argue against that, I think he does a great job. I also think that, while a song like this might be considered to lean on what’s tried, tested, and true – you can also assume that, by how closely he’s played this tune to what we know and what’s comfortable, that he’s not shying away from comments like these and likely expecting them. For example, the way this song ends is right out of music history’s most classic playbook; could he have gone another route and switched it up and made a moment like that more of his own? Sure! But that’s clearly not what David was out to do with this song…he was looking for a more universal Blues-Rock vibe on “Tryin To Get To You” – and he stays the course of accessibility here.
I ALMOST played “J.P.G.R.” on the SBS Podcast yesterday…and there’s definitely a great chance that I’ll play it sometime in the future, that I can tell ya. The frequencies and low-end sounds…the blissful strangeness in the concept and execution…I mean, c’mon people – this was a seriously genius cut from Eudaemonia and a song unlike any other that you’ll find out there in music-land. Spoiler alert – “J.P.G.R.” = John, Paul, George, and Ringo…aka, four little dudes from the UK that did a few things in music here & there. YES those infamous four! He’s shoutin’ out The Beatles here…in one of the most bizarre cuts from the record and strangest of possible ways that he could have – but at the same time, ya gotta acknowledge just how many Beatles-esque flashes David reveals to you throughout his past albums and here again on Eudaemonia. The creativity born into “J.P.G.R.” comes from pure respect is what I’m saying…it’s a tributary song of its own design for sure, but still one that expresses his love for the Fab Four all the same. All that being said…after all you’ve heard throughout this album so far, there’s still no way on earth that you’d see a song like “J.P.G.R.” about to come atcha; to this point on Eudaemonia, it’s easily the largest departure from the norm, especially coming after the more standardized sounds of a song like “Tryin To Get To You” right beforehand. Incidentally, the ONLY words you’ll hear on this track are the names of The Beatles…and oddly, that’s really all that’s needed here to make the difference; I think the hypnotic-meets-robotic sound of “J.P.G.R.” would have already been rad enough as an instrumental – but I also think having the straight bizarreness of the vocals put it over the top. And LISTEN to moments like around the 3:30 mark will ya? Good lordy almighty…the final thirty seconds or so of this song could easily be a track from Nine Inch Nails that Reznor himself would be proud of. Killer mix of the textures and frequencies used between the music & vocals of “J.P.G.R.”
Sometimes, ya just gotta let loose and have yourself a musical freak-out, know what I mean? Yeah you do…SO MANY of you musicians I know out there understand this…and believe me when I say I get it too. “Diskoteka Ukraina” is a perfect example of not taking the art & craft too seriously or over-thinking it all too much; let us not forget, what brings us to making music to begin with, is having FUN. David is having fun here, there’s no doubt about it. In a completely wild blend of culture and craziness, “Diskoteka Ukraina” embraces the ideas and sounds put forth for everything they’re worth, and rides this mother straight off into the sunset without apologies as he leaves the rest of the world behind. When it comes right down to it, that’s the way this HAD to be played for it to work when being this different from the rest of what you’ll hear on Eudaemonia – you’ve gotta COMMIT like David does here to make it have the impact it deserves and gain the acceptance of our ears. “Diskoteka Ukraina” and its mechanically-inclined grooves and grind make for the exact kind of oddity you’ll reach for when wanting to say fuck it all for the day, leave work behind, and go off to do your own damn thing however you damn well please.
I think “Charlottesville” is without question one of the record’s most interesting tunes. Honestly, I don’t really know what I was expecting at first – but it wasn’t this. I think I figured that, we’d get some sort of more ‘normal’ tune out of David when it came to what’s been such a source of controversy and heartbreak over the past three years…maybe a stripped-down acoustic tune with plenty of words and wisdom in a folk-singer style. Don’t really know why I didn’t know better on that…I just assumed somehow. So of course, what David’s created is cunningly different than anything I, you, or anyone else would likely expect. It’s songs like “Charlottesville” that completely have me wishing I could just open up the lid on the man’s brain and have a look inside to see how this guy is wired…it’s SO anti-typical! Is there a risk in making this one of the longer tracks on the record, or including such a different sound at this stage of the album after all the stuff we’ve experienced beforehand that’s nothing at all like “Charlottesville?” Sure. I can accept that, I’m sure David does too. Some people will get right into this one, others probably not…he’s experimenting with soundscapes here and cobbling together a crunchy cut that’s an audible riot of its own right. It’s a genuine collage of edgy & gripping sound, all laced together with a madman’s touch…and if you dig your music on the experimental side, this Bud’s for you. What I want to know, like I do with so many instrumentals out there with leading titles…is what exactly is he trying to say & express without words here? Could be chaos…could be catastrophe…could be the intensity of the crowd…could be the explosiveness of the entire events that took place in “Charlottesville” – and we might never know one way or the other. It’d be impossible to discern exactly what he’s going for on this particular cut without some guidance, but…*cough *cough…I suppose that’s what interviews are for. It’d be interesting to find out just far down the rabbit hole this song goes.
Having a bit more fun at the end of the record, “You Are My Human” experiments with robotic vocal samples and a vibrant effect in singing the main title itself; it’s almost like someone took Rosie, the robot from The Jetsons and asked her to write a love-song for the beloved space-age family that took her in. Once again, I’m sure the ultimate meanings behind why David wrote this song or what actually inspired it are likely quite different…but that’s my take on it. You get a very playful synthetic bounce and groove to come along with this final tune in the official lineup, and considering the placement, I think it’s a solid exit out of what’s been a highly unique & versatile experience from beginning to end. I don’t know that “You Are My Human” would have worked anywhere else in the set-list, but thankfully, that’s not something we have to consider here; it might play somewhat like an afterthought in comparison to the rest of the songs on Eudaemonia, but I bet you’ll be surprised by how much it ends up entertaining you. David Stephenson actively makes time for real FUN on this record and tracks like “You Are My Human, almost every bit as much as he’s out to seriously entertain you with the sincerity you’ll find in many of the others, reflecting a true balance that exists within the confines of Eudaemonia. He’s every bit as quirky as I promised ya on the SBS Podcast – but there’s no doubt he knows exactly what he’s doing at the same time. He’s threaded this record together with tremendous amounts of pure imagination and the willingness to go after ideas others wouldn’t dare to – and as a result, I think you’ll find the diversity in the material of Eudaemonia will provide you with tunes you’d never expect. There’s something to be said for that. In fact, as I’ve already proven here – there’s a lot to be said for it.
Keep in mind, we’re likely still a couple weeks away from the official release…and things could still change when the record comes out. I’ve got instrumentals of “Check Under My Eyes” and “Tuscon” that come with the version I’ve got – both of which I was happy to hear return at the end. Like I said, I very much dig what David’s accomplished from the microphone on Eudaemonia – but the creativity in his music deserves at least equal billing. “Tuscon” is one of the best cuts to experience on that instrumental level – and “Check Under My Eyes” brilliantly preserves the backing vocals I loved so much from the original, that it absolutely gets my seal of approval as well. As much as I’ve enjoyed Stephenson’s music in the past – and I have – there’s definitely an argument to be made that Eudaemonia is a perfect example of the man at his expressive & experimental best…there’s a smorgasbord of ideas & sounds that exist, thrive, and thrill all the way throughout this record. Impressively divergent from the ‘normal’ when it comes right down to it – and all executed with the confidence & commitment you want to hear.
Find out more about David Stephenson from his official page at Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/DavidStephensonMusic
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