David Stephenson – I Become Disaster – Album Review
An eclectic & diverse palette in music can lead artists to supreme moments creatively. Having a large knowledge of different styles & sounds, whether they’re always ‘your’ thing or not doesn’t end up really even mattering…by sheer exposure, influences bleed into our work. If you’re one of the lucky ones out there – you get to take the hard-work & efforts of years of music-history and BUILD on it…because it hasn’t ‘all been done’ – we’re far from it and albums like I Become Disaster by David Stephenson are all the proof of that you need. This guy gets it.
That being said…because of his own diverse taste in style/sound, Stephenson mixes it up with different songs of all kinds throughout the album…perhaps rooted most in post-punk/rock but taking on elements of surf-rock, indie-rock, new-wave, alternative, electro-inspired tunes as well… – you get the idea, he covers the map. I Become Disaster is a rewarding experience to listen to, straight-up; imagination runs wild all throughout David’s record and he puts in committed performances that have serious amounts of character and attitude. As with all records so spread-out in their ideas and sounds, you’re bound to like some more than the others – but I have no doubt at all that you’ll hear the craft, creativity, skill and imagination in the tunes on Stephenson’s latest record…it really hits the spot if you’re looking for something different that has exceptionally unique ideas and quality production – and who isn’t?
Channeling the Rev. Horton Heat, “Fukushima Baby” started up the record with enough going for it in David’s approach to recording/production & his musicianship to keep me interested. Not gonna lie…that was about it…or at least, threatened to be until the immaculately clever breakdown near the 1:30 mark…basically he plays this song well, but this particular style of rock tends to remind me of like…The Stray Cats, Jet or the Brian Setzer-whatever-thang…it’s just never been my thing and not David’s fault. I appreciate that it’s played well…I dig that he sounds like he’s into it…dig the fuzz on the bass and the fact that it DOES have fun with the style. Right around the first minute mark, you hear the capabilities and ingenuity of David creep innovatively into the song…and even though I was somewhat worried on my first listen that this might go on to be the dominant kind of style…that twisted classic-rock/rockabilly sound…I felt like Stephenson gives us so much more than this initial experience has to offer in terms of ideas later on down the road. Execution, production and quality-wise, it’s as good as the rest are…”Fukushima Baby” is just as likely to be your FAVORITE; it’s just not my own personal taste or style, but he plays it just as well as any other and owns this first tune with tremendous confidence.
I’m much more interested in the badass sound of something like “Death By A 1000 Cuts” – which takes a spin on the new-wave side of its influence, combined with a solid post-punk serious in the music. Lyrically, David is KILLIN’ it here…that vocal-flow is absolutely LOADED with all the hook that someone would possibly need or want. You have to wonder if something like this might be what like…Men Without Hats might sound like if they were to make an album in the present-day…David’s got a real gift for bringing in old-school styles from throughout music’s history and twisting them into something relevant and new for today. He sounds like a punked-out David Bowie on “Death By A 1000 Cuts” while the guitar tones that eventually creep in sound like they’re right off of an early album by The Cure; and all the while, the beat continues to stay steady, the pace is rhythmic, danceable and packed with serious groove and hypnotic ideas that slip right into your mind, body & soul. I felt like with the massive differences between these first two songs in their styles & sound that I was safer to assume that any further predictions for what would come next would likely be off the mark anyway…best to let it all come at me, bro. “Death By A 1000 Cuts” earned him a ton of street-credit with me…I love the background elements of this tune just as much as the main hooks – the entire performance and writing here led me to believe I could definitely expect an entire range of atmospheres and ideas, but also indicated that the imagination was top-shelf and the execution was immaculate.
“Class War” is short & to the point. Just over a minute long, this punker rips on social awareness quickly before it ends…with a quick pit-stop in the chorus to add in a bit of potential hope in the lyrics; believe it or not, even at its short length, you get two full solid rotations between verse & chorus. He makes the most of every THE minute of this one…a decent tune and once again well played…I might have saved this one for later on in the record for a quick burst of energy, but I’ve got no issues with how it sounds. Between that and “Suicide Poets” and its just-over two-minute contribution to the record, he keeps the songs in the punk-vein…the old-school rhythmic stuff in the verses of both tunes. “Suicide Poets” has two choruses more or less…I dig the first, more spread-out and atmospheric sound…as it gets more intense, layered and punk, it’s a little less me & my own personal taste, but undeniably well executed and very true to the style & sound he’s seeking to create.
“Anger,” which shows up in two different forms throughout this record…was where things really started to change for me. First of all…that bass-line groove is something I could eat by the bloody bowlful – that is SO DAMN GOOD there’s no way any one can resist it. Combined with the incredible guitar parts and brilliant samples that he chooses along the adventure, “Anger” is electro-smoothness defined and creative as it gets in a minimalist setting. Excellent textures and sounds on this cut…an audiophile’s true dream to listen from the lefts to the rights. I had to double-check this one to see if I had it correct…because “Anger” as it appears here, is actually the instrumental version…later on you’ll get “Anger Instrumental,” which actually has many more words. Do I think it’s a mistake? No. I think David’s messing with us on this one. I see how it is David…it’s gonna be like that is it? Bring it.
Somewhere in the middle of The Ramones, Green Day, Rancid and The Clash, the album’s title-tune, “I Become Disaster” has a solidly entertaining pop-punk vibe going on…a genuine party tune if I’ve ever heard one. He’s got great ideas on the vocals here…and a performance that’s noteworthy…David is an inspiringly confident entertainer and he certainly understands how to bring it to all-things-rock. “I Become Disaster” has enough of a classic-punk attitude to pull in that crowd, enough of an alternative-punk vibe to pull in the modern day crowd…and most importantly, as much as I might like my music to be downtrodden misery-laden melodies…well…I can’t help but admit, this is just pure damn fun. Opens uniquely, ends just as innovatively, and in between you end up rocking the fuck out the whole damn time – can’t really complain with that! I really do dig the way he did the opening verse with the call-and-answer style of writing and effects on the vocals, that started this one off on insightfully-smart & solid ground and David keeps us groovin’ from there.
LISTEN to “What’ll I Do” – like…I LIVE for this kind of stuff. Even though a ton of this record is obviously enormously different from this next comparison…for some reason this really strikes me all about as hard as the first time I checked out Mellow Gold from Beck when it first got released. Each song had such an exceptionally differently personality from the last, just like Stephenson has done here on this record…and like Mellow Gold at that time, this goes against the grain of the mainstream just as hard. “What’ll I Do” is a wild blend of psych-pop 60’s and surf rock together, also a cover of an Irving Berlin tune – he’s got it twisted into something that really works in an honest & raw way. Almost like someone discovered a long-lost single from The Beatles on an old 45 that had been left out in the sun on a deserted island, “What’ll I Do” has the perfect blend of mystery inside its melody…taking on that exquisite alternate-pop style that’s right out of the grunge era; I don’t know that I’d expect everyone out there to ‘get’ this one – but I absolutely loved it. The guitars on this cut truly stand-out for all the right reasons; highly imaginative, tremendous tones.
“Dirty Early” takes the alternative/industrial style for a serious ride – Stephenson finds himself locked into a MASSIVE rhythm and groove that really works like the sound of something by She Wants Revenge at their most dirty & danceable, like they played a track written by Spoon. David’s vocals on this song are absolutely wicked – I think he really plays this one smart by mostly keeping it simple lyrically and letting the words dictate the melody; everything on this cut comes out seriously enticing to the ear and the hooks in the vocals & music are equally powerful. Of all the tracks on this record, I’d say he’s potentially found his most accessible hook in the chorus of “Dirty Early” – brilliant use of lead & backing vocals on this cut. To me personally, he’s done an award-winning job of keeping the music just as incredible to listen to at every moment…it’s a wickedly powerful cut, executed to perfection in the music & on the mic – every fiber of your being wants this groove to keep going.
“Privateer” is a fine example of the difference that genuine passion can make. You could probably call this alt-folk…progressive-folk…pop-folk…folk-something, that’s for sure. I felt like “Privateer” is the kind of track I’d normally put up a harder fight against as it’s a bit outside my normal genres…but something in this cut reminded me of that honest playfulness you can find in the mix of serious ideas from Cake. Between the ideas and imagination in the music and the inspired way that David takes this tune to the next level with his vocals, he really won me over on “Privateer” with a sincerely uplifting performance. The confidence just RADIATES off this guy…and I can’t help but seriously love it; he’s so into these songs that we come right along with him, regardless of what our own personal tastes would naturally lead us into. “Privateer” really lets him sing it out…he sounds like he’s having just as much fun as he is being sincere…that mix has a real charm & charisma to it…maybe could have done without the arpeggio-synth sound in the second-minute, but that’s hardly a complaint; if he’s this into his song, believe me, I am too and I’ll happily follow this creative innovator anywhere he wants to lead us.
And he’ll lead us into some STRANGE territory sometimes! Lyrically, I’ve gotta hand it to “Excitable Boy” – that’s the track that gets the award. A highly twisted tune…listen close to this one…chances are you’ll mistake the sweetness in the acoustic melody in the music for what might also be a sweetly-intentioned song in the words too. Good luck with that. But this would be another reason why that Beck comparison from before really does seem to fit Stephenson – songs like “Excitable Boy” come just far enough out of left field to shock you a little – and he’s not going for a gimmick or a trick to pull you in & quickly let you go, “Excitable Boy” is still a completely stand-up tune to listen to. Also like Beck, he’s got the harmonica just rippin’ away throughout this bizarre tale. It’s like taking a Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan or Meat Loaf style of tune and then like…you know…just making it SO TWISTED in the tale just to dirty-up that whole songwriter’s genre a helluva lot…I dunno…something in me says this is one mighty fine idea David’s got here.
A big ol’ ‘fuck YEAH!’ to “Haunted.” This reminded me more of something like…like when DJ Shadow and Josh Homme collaborated together on the U.N.K.L.E. record…”Haunted” has that perfect blend of both worlds. Partly programmed through its drums and samples, partly performed through the guitars and vocals – there’s absolutely nothing about this tune that I don’t love. Another key element of a record that has kept its sound insanely diverse, the electro-side of David’s music comes out a bit more here through “Haunted” – and really, it’s like the guy can’t go wrong with any direction he seems to choose. I’m not just being kind…and no, he’s not related to me…he’s really reaching for something different every time he creates a song, but most importantly, he’s absolutely THROWING himself into these ideas of his with every ounce of passion & genuine enthusiasm that a music-maker possibly can. “Haunted” is absolutely awesome…complete proof that David can thrive in multiple environments and really deliver something worth repeating, time and time again, in any style – what a talent this guy is!
Even when I THINK he’s gonna bug me…like say, at the beginning of “Main Vain” – I thought I’d never get by the lyrics when I first heard them…even in THOSE spots, he wins me over eventually. My biggest issue with “Main Vain” over time became more to do with the production of the vocals on this particular tune – but the ideas in the song fought a much easier battle with me than I would have initially thought. The guitars on this cut sparkle, the melody absolutely hits the sweetness perfectly…and that same lyricism that initially struck me as almost silly on that first listening experience of the first verse proves itself to be an integral part of the magic and charm of “Main Vain.” The vocal-flow to this song is loaded with sweetness…I dig the performance David puts in to both its verse and chorus…just not entirely sure about the production on this one tune in comparison to the rest of what we’ve heard on this record all along the way. Another perfect example of David bailing himself out would be the song to follow, “King’s Cross Gate” – which I was and kind of still am unsure of whether or not I dig the verse at all – but listen to the overhauled synthesizer sound on here…I mean…we’re talking KEYTAR level of cheese in the sound, but somehow it ends up really making you smile. I’ll say this…I felt like the verse was a little too familiar in its vocal-flow…like it borrows a bit too much from an influence out there somewhere that we’ve all heard but can’t quite put our fingers on. BUT…every time it rolls through a verse, guess what? You got it – cue the keytar sounds and wild lazer-synth fun on the chorus…so what can you do? Between both “Main Vain” and “King’s Cross Gate” I felt like I learned to sit back, relax and just trust David to bring the imagination, creativity, fun and melody into the music…and he never let me down once – both these tunes were more & more welcome the more I listened to this album.
“Anger Instrumental” – I still swear is the version that has the vocals, I’ve triple-checked this now… Verdict? I dig this every bit as much with vocals as I did without – I think that Stephenson has played this one completely correct by finding a nice rubbery, loose vocal-flow to match the immaculately-smooth bass-tones that keep this track moving. The main hook of the chorus can be found in both versions of the song…he’s got himself a winner with that one too – that’ll be in my head for days and days from now and I’ll be happily singing “Everyday my world is coming to an end…” with a huge smile on my face while I’m like, gardening or shopping at the grocery store & people will think I’ve probably lost my damn mind. Maybe I have. As long as I still get to listen to music like this, I’m cool with it.
Ending the album with “Down In The Valley” was completely RAD AF. Like a cross between Interpol and the Black Angels – as far as his vocal performances on this record are concerned, this was one of the most impressive in my opinion. I’ve enjoyed him all throughout this record for the most part I’d say – but there’s no doubt that he really takes it up one level further to end I Become Disaster on “Down In The Valley.” He sounds MASSIVE…really belting it out like never before like a war-cry in the midst of growing madness & chaos in the music…but notice how it all still somehow makes some damn sense? I’m honestly not even sure myself how he accomplishes this one…”Down In The Valley” was a freakin’ treat to listen to and again, massive proof that David is capable of incredible creativity that you still WANT to hear. There is a somewhat ‘wall of sound’ approach to this finale of his record – but it’s one that hits with the looming menace and memorable presence that makes a real impact; that’s an unforgettable ending as far as I’m concerned and a real achievement in bringing an idea roaring to life.
Yeah jeez…I mean…I don’t know what else to possibly say – I’ve had a fuckin riot listening to this record and think that David Stephenson has certainly got my attention. A lot of genius ideas on I Become Disaster and a heck of an experience in style/sound combinations…wildly creative with bold atmospheres that truly reach for something new, even if you can hear the roots of the influences. He’s definitely onto something here and he’s definitely got me listening; word on the street is that Stephenson’s got another album already being put together to be released this year – you can safely bet that I’m now highly looking forward to hearing that too, this guy is radder than rad.
Find out more about David Stephenson at his official page at Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/DavidStephensonMusic