dilated – This Is What I’d Fill Nothing With – Album Review
“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…” ain’t that how the old saying goes? dilated has got all of that in-store for ya in some way, shape, or form on the debut album This Is What I’d Fill Nothing With. Something old in the sense that, we actually know this dude by another name…err…that is…we’ve known him by a couple other names in the past actually. Something new with respect to how different this record truly is in comparison to what I’ve heard from him before…but also something borrowed with the recognizable approach he takes with some of the songs in the lineup as well. As for something blue…I mean…I’m just sticking with the well-known phrase as it’s been written – if we’re being real here, dilated is pretty much ALL blue, and at all of the times…but hey, I dig that here. The bottom line is…time & experience has treated this guy extremely well – this is the best I’ve heard so far from the mind behind the music, and a stellar first impression of his new project & debut as dilated.
With a supreme twist, the way “Enigma” featuring BIG_SOBS started out, I thought I was going to be in for another record that actually WAS built on what I’d heard in the past, albeit the addition of vocals was more prevalent. Then around the 1:25-ish mark, I realized that wasn’t gonna be the case at all – and I immediately started right on in to loving what I was hearing. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always enjoyed the stuff I’d heard in the past – but I’d also made several comments about it needing a bit more spark & life in its veins…a bit more focus as well in terms of direction…a little more confidence…all the stuff that comes with time & experience, which this Australia-based artist now has firmly under his belt. As “Enigma” shifted into a supremely gritty sound and brought the real weight of its emotion to the surface amidst a ton of brilliantly clever layers in the mix & musicianship goin’ on – there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the switch in his moniker was a direct reflection of the undeniable fact that he has leveled-up 100%. So dilated it is! As difficult as it can be to follow an artist or band through the many names they might go by throughout the years of a career – when things noticeably change to the degree they have in this dude’s music, I’m all about it – it makes sense. There’s a time in life where it just makes complete sense to draw a line between the past & present, and a record like this is definitely the appropriate moment to bring attention to how very much has changed. Whereas there’s an argument to be made that a lot of the previous material under his old name appealed to him and appealed to me – it would have still been a difficult sell to the masses out there. But this…THIS…I think dilated’s got a record people will really dig on with This Is What I’d Fill Nothing With. It’s still mired in a healthy dose of misery for the most part, but make no mistake y’all – there’s massive appeal to that emotion that’s always universally relatable. Personally, as a long-standing fan of what this guy creates, hearing the way “Enigma” started out and shifted so dramatically formed a bridge that carried me from the past into the present without a hitch – the Alt/Indie sound that comes outta your speakers is fantastically gripping, sensory, and authentically exciting. “Enigma” pumps out a highly addictive kind of melancholy I could listen to for days on end; and the innovative way dilated continued to explore the depths of this first cut was nothing short of brilliant. LISTEN to how freakin’ incredible the percussion is in this track will ya? The weight of the guitar tones & how perfectly paired they are with the vocals…”Enigma” makes an instant impression; an excellent one.
Like bro…you’re crushin’ it! “Bad Dream” keeps the crunch on the guitars intact, and combined with the vocals at work here on this second cut, you get a Minus The Bear-esque sound to the vibe you’ll find, though by the end, you’ll find it morphs into a more ambitious & unique display of dilated’s own sound. Either way, I’m all about it…whether you feel like it compares to something you’ve heard or not, the reality is, “Bad Dream” makes another solid impression on ya through both the music & vocals. Keep in mind, you’re listening to music that’s being made by one dude at the end of the day – and hearing just how tight it’s all come out, how balanced the strengths are in the music across the board, and the level of attention to detail in the finest layers of the background…I mean…it’s just straight-up outstanding y’all. “Bad Dream” makes impeccable use of its four plus-minutes, transitioning through its multi-faceted sound with ease and raging like a subtle sonic blaze as it shifts into the heights of its intensity. While trying to make sense of all the voices swirling through his head, dilated transfers that feeling directly onto us through the multiple layers of sound, depth, and dimension in “Bad Dream” – it’s not just a stellar cut for the execution in the performance, but conceptually, this is focused as focused gets.
For those of you out there that are “Third Eye”-aware, you’ll dig on what you hear throughout this third tune on a lyrical level. For those of you out there that are just reading that term for the first time now, or don’t feel like you are “Third Eye”-aware, don’t worry – this track will make an argument as to why it’s probably pretty important for us all to seek out becoming so. It’s one of the shorter cuts on dilated’s debut record – there are parts of this song that are gonna go down real smooth with the listeners out there, and aspects that’ll potentially present a bit more of a challenge perhaps. I kept trying to put my finger on who it was that dilated actually reminded me of here in the vocal department…and given that there’s a couple of different gears/approaches to how “Third Eye” is sung, it took me longer to figure it out – but it’s actually Robert Smith. While there’s still miles of difference between dilated and The Cure in terms of the sound & style, in many ways there’s an inherent connection created through the varied approach to the vocals, the emotion on display, the poetic aspect, and yes, even what could be possibly perceived as imperfections too. As in, The Cure is one of my two all-time favorite bands – that’s a fact. Has Robert Smith pissed me right off a million times with bending a note in his vocals this way or that way, or gone right flat like the life has drained right outta his veins while recording? YES. All of the time. Still doesn’t stop me from loving a fantastic idea or song when it comes right down to it. “Third Eye” features Nephi The Crow; it has a few awkward vocal moments…that’s the reality here…but it’s also a song that’s got something significant to say, a killer set of ideas at its core, and a shift into its main hooks that makes an incredible impact every time – you trying to tell me that’s not worth the trade for the occasional questionable note or syllable that seems slightly outta place? C’mon – it is so. I don’t ever expect perfection within the independent scene – every one of you out there is doin’ the best you can with the tools you’ve got and no multi-million dollar assistance like the mainstream gets – all I want to hear is passion, and dilated has got plenty of that. I think it takes a bit of getting used to the way the vocals are approached in parts of this song…but I can’t hear any reasons as to why people wouldn’t be willing to do that – you spin through “Third Eye” once and you’ll hear why it’s such an interesting & compelling cut you’d never abandon. And for what it’s worth, I’m not sure how much else dilated could have done to make it better than it is…that’s why I say it takes some getting used to, but that’s completely on our end – from his, he’s essentially done all the right things, taken chances, and also delivered significant highlights. I felt like the hooks of “Third Eye” were extremely effective, and the song as a whole never lost my attention; the more I played it, the more I accepted its multi-vocal approach & the different parts you’ll find justify those changes. Overall though, while I can hear a few things could present a couple challenges to the everyday listeners out there…I’m not hearing anything that’ll keep me away – I really like “Third Eye.”
For better or worse, the courage it takes to experiment leads directly to progress over time. I’m realistic in the sense that I know some of these ideas will have no problem at all landing in the ears of listeners out there, and others are gonna have a tougher time getting their share of the attention in this lineup. “Safe Space” is quite likely going to be that cut that separates those willing to ride it out to the end from those that aren’t – and that’s okay – there’s almost always an invisible line in the sand on every record if you’re listening closely. At its slower pace, “Safe Space” naturally becomes a tougher sell to the masses; then you factor in the distance at work in the sound itself, its melancholy-heavy sound & internalized thoughts, a bold but less balanced performance on the vocals in terms of tone perhaps, and a slightly more meandering design – no lie, it’s a tall order for the restless among us to stick with this cut. What I like is the production personally – I love the way the sound is spread out personally…I like the echoing in the distance and I’d readily admit to the isolated feeling that comes along with “Safe Space” being pretty akin to something that’d be my jam normally…so for me, I’m once again hearing a whole bunch of stuff that connects to me on many levels. I’d happily concede it’s not gonna be a vibe I’d reach for every day of my life – but there are moments & moods where this cut would perfectly suit the downtrodden mood I might very well be in myself, locked up in my head and just trying to find some clarity, like dilated is within the lyrics here. Moments like you’ll find around the 3:15 spot are highly curious to me…the restraint is kinda remarkable – that slight shift in tone brightens up the entire vibe in a way that adds this incredible degree of accessibility through the tiniest shift…and for me, became my main reason to return to “Safe Space” every time. That’s one of those moments you reach in a song where it makes every ticking second of the ride to get to it time well spent – there’s some really beautiful stuff happening in the music of this tune, mellow & melancholy laden as it may be. Vocally, again, I think there are some really significant highlights that work, and parts that are more questionable as well – as far as the eventual shift into the auto-tune effect goes, it works about as well as it works for Kanye – which is to say it doesn’t really, yet somehow we accept it because there’s just always something cool to listen to in the way it contributes to what we hear as it desperately searches & roams around for the right note. Same thing vocally – I felt like the biggest highlight you’ll find is just after the 3:25 mark – “Safe Space” was largely weighted towards the end for its most impactful moments, in my opinion.
“Breathe” sounds like it was recorded au-naturale out in the wide open beauty of the world, and knowing the dude behind the music of dilated just a little bit over the years, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that’s the case whatsoever. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that musically, it’s somewhat mirroring the title of this song…as if to say, get out there in the world where you belong, breathe some fresh air for once, and heck – bring a guitar and embrace that moment while you’re at it will ya? You’re alive – and that pretty much puts you on top of the world no matter where you’re at in life or where you live – “Breathe” to me was about appreciating all that. Of course, you might have a completely different interpretation, and maybe dilated does too – it’s an instrumental – you’ve got the luxury of going wherever it is that it takes you in your mind as you listen to it…but I’ll admit, I certainly like my theory. Love the use of the ambient sound in the mix…love the humble way it’s played…purposely imperfect in many ways…like you’re listening to a song come to life right in the moment for the very first time – and call me crazy, but there’s something genuinely beautiful about all that. “Breathe” really worked for me.
Lyrically, I felt like “Dreamer” was one of the absolute standout cuts on this record without question. The internal struggle come to life – this is dilated confronting himself head-on…and really, you’re not sure which part of his personality is really gonna win – which makes it oddly exciting like you’ve got a ringside seat & watching his own psyche duke it out. Very much digging the way this song transitions as it plays on…it’s one of those real loose-but-tight AF tunes where it retains an entirely hazy vibe to it like the film over your eyeballs when you first wake up and search for clarity, but when you finally see, everything’s right in the place where it should be. I love the first line – “I think I’m losing it again – oh no” – it’s just so exquisitely genuine…not panicked by any measure…so much more accepting of the fact that this is the case and somewhat bracing for whatever’s next to come as the madness seeps in. You get the sense that dilated has definitely spent more than a few of his days somewhere along the lines with a hefty amount of psychedelics…I felt like you get a lot of that out of this track, but maybe that’s just projection and the way I’m hearing it. “Why can’t I communicate with me?” – this line resonated with me big time…especially with the way its sung with such a morphed style – again, I might be projecting – I’m not even 100% sure that’s actually what dilated is singing. All I’m saying is that I’ve been there y’all – when the mirror is referenced in “Dreamer,” I went right back to one of the biggest trips I’ve ever had myself, where I spent what felt like an eternity staring straight into the mirror at a friend’s house, convinced I saw the ‘real me’ for the very first time, and was desperately attempting to communicate. I’m sad to report, in a way I did, and in a way I didn’t – I still feel like I got to see ‘me’ right there in front of myself…but I never did get a real chance to have any kind of substantial two-way dialogue that I can remember. I got to acknowledge ‘my’ existence in the weirdest way, and that was really all I got to do – sadly, it seemed like it was hiding so deep inside me that it actually surprised me to catch it all in the mirror that day, which is what stopped me from simply leaving the bathroom for the next several hours. Like I was about to turn off the light & leave when I caught my own eye, and from that moment forward it was like – “hey – have you ALWAYS been there, and why haven’t I seen you before?” Followed by the remarkable relief that it was just good to connect…and ultimately the despair of realizing that for whatever reason, a moment as special as that couldn’t last; the memory of it all is as crystal clear and vivid to my mind as if it happened yesterday – and for that, I’m eternally thankful. So ANYHOW…”Dreamer” really got to me – I’m guessing that’s obvious to you by now – but I’d almost be surprised if dilated didn’t have some kind of similar story that echoes my own…that’s what this track felt like it was really all about to me, and I freakin’ loved it. Plus – you factor in how creative the musicianship is with the timing & layers & all that…the shifting tempos & dynamics – there’s a lot here to love, even with the amount of uncertainty & questioning that hangs throughout the atmosphere so often in this track. That spread-out sound really does make an impact on moments like you’ll hear around the 2:45 mark where the guitars take you on into the space-like sound, or how the vocals snap right into their clearest thoughts expressed around the 3:10 mark with such confidence & vivid lucidity.
As far as the vocals go, “Let It Flow” featuring Klompy has some of the most impressive highlights I’ve heard from this artist in any of the material I’ve heard to-date. The reality is, there’s more energy required for the dude to pull it off than you’d find in the vast majority of the music he’s made – but here, with the opportunity, you can hear how seriously effective and bang-on he can really be at his most intense. “Let It Flow” still embraces a somewhat hazy design that drifts in between moments that seem starkly focused, and others that will head into more dreamy & unrestricted movement as it wanders around – but hearing dilated snap right into the main hooks of this cut made a savage impact that couldn’t possibly be denied by any set of functioning ears out there. So to me…”Let It Flow” is kind of an all-encompassing symbol of a song that really shows you where the rubber meets the road when it comes to assessing what dilated is all about, and what this project wants to do with its sound. As in – “Let It Flow” could be a four minute tune, stocked with accessibility from wall-to-wall and a powerful hook listeners wouldn’t be able to resist with a bit of a trim and an edit…but you have to assume that the more wandering elements that you’ll hear along the way are every bit as essential to the artist making the music. And that’s important y’all! Don’t compromise for OUR sake – make the music you make, and let us come to you – that’s the only real way art can exist in this world I tells ya. So as much as I would love to recommend to dilated to simply chop a bit out of this track and tighten it up in terms of accessibility – in terms of the art he’s seeking to create with what he does, that’d be about the worst advice any of us could ever give him. It’s dudes just like this that find extraordinary moments like you’ll hear in the chorus of “Let It Flow” that you probably couldn’t ever stumble onto without being daring enough to experiment in every direction that music can take you – I salute the efforts and ambitions, and I’m sittin’ here listening, marveling at the results. The hooks of “Let It Flow” are SO ADDICTIVE that I’d be shocked to hear this song doesn’t win everyone over by the time they hit ya…it’s the spirited sound of musical emancipation that gets dilated to reach the next level, & for what it’s worth, it’s as universally accessible as a moment ever gets. Your soul will seriously feed on the inspired way dilated raises the stakes so brilliantly on “Let It Flow” – after spinning this several times over this week, I can 100% vouch for it being among this record’s best.
This Is What I’d Fill Nothing With continues strongly with “Opia” to follow. Making stellar use of the ol’ loud/quiet dynamics, dilated cruises through multiple gears on this track, ranging from some of the most melodic & sweet you’ll find, straight on through to some of the album’s most intense moments & right on back again to end as serenely as it all began. It’s a really well thought-out cut – and the way it springs to life around the fifty-second mark snaps us all to attention as we listen…a bold transition for sure in terms of how soft things were only moments before, but so very welcome when you hear how cleverly it works. “Opia” has dilated searching & yearning for something real to hang onto in this life, and I can’t say I blame the guy…that’s been harder to find than ever for just about everyone over these past couple years I’m sure. The depth in this cut is freakin’ fantastic…in particular, between 2:30-3:30, you’ll find a whole plethora of different directions taken within this one experience that really stack up impressively together – and as dilated shifts into the run towards the finale of “Opia” about fifteen seconds or so later, you can’t help but feel the specialness inherent to the energy in that specific sensory moment. All-in-all, it’s really stellar songwriting and passionate execution combined – you can feel the commitment to this cut’s ideas and dilated find the strength required to reach the full potential of the writing in the diverse array of melody & moods this track possesses. You’ll find no complaints from me here though – I think there’s probably always going to be an argument that dilated is appealing to a more niche crowd out there, but tracks like “Opia” that offer more accessibility for the masses are always going to pay off in the end. This is how to bring them all in to the rest, you feel me? There’s still more than enough sound & style on the fringe that’s unique to dilated that the people out there will have to experience in the process of discovering the accessibility to come, and in that journey, lies the evolution of the listener – it’s tracks just like “Opia” that are directly responsible for opening minds to music that can be more.
Yeah…you know something? The added intensity to this dude’s music has been a real benefit to the vast majority of this lineup, and brought out some of the undeniable best I’ve heard in his catalog all-around. “Release” featuring BIG_SOBS and MAX! potential has its moments for me personally…I’m a bit more back & forth on this cut as a song overall, but I can certainly acknowledge it’s got another rack of significant highlights to be enjoyed along the way. For a six-minute tune, and knowing this dude’s penchant for experimentation, art, and unique ideas – several in one song more often than not – it’s almost natural to expect that you’ll find parts of a track this length that you’ll love, and others not as much. Personally, I love the way it starts with such spread out serenity to be found, and I dig the way it punches in to the intensity you’ll find that first time around. From there, probably a bit more patchy in terms of how I felt towards “Release” – but I’m not denying I was fully engaged and entertained all the same. I think the reality is that “Release” is probably among the tallest asks when it comes to following it along from point-A to point-B…there’s a good chance that once you get to the bounce of the 3:40 mark, you’ll all be willing to strap right in to the end with the renewed energy it adds – but even from there forward, you’re still in for plenty of twists & turns yet to be had. “Release” is an artistically ambitious tune, a hybrid collage of sound & ideas being fused into one…and just like a Jackson Pollock painting, some of its colorful patterns will resonate with you with the power of purpose, while others will feel like ideas being thrown & splatted onto a canvas. Ultimately, a lot of “Release” is simply about going with the moment, wherever it may take you in life and in what you do – so thematically, dilated is on-point, but knowing that doesn’t necessarily equate to making this an easier ride from start to finish…context matters & it helps, but it’s still a challenging cut.
Now…if you’re talking about something I’d sit and listen to for hours on end, it’s “Saudade” – but I’ll acknowledge I’m not everyone. Spoken-word at its most brilliant, you hang on to every single word & syllable of this song…it’s spellbinding, thought-provoking, and outright fascinating to listen to. Very much like the conversation in the mirror I alluded to earlier on…this is once again dilated confronting himself in many ways, though the story you’ll discover could quite easily mimic your very own, depending on who ya are. The music is SPECTACULAR and a perfect complement to a vibe like this track has, the Spoken-word vocals are performed beyond perfection – no joke, I couldn’t get enough of listening to “Saudade,” and every time it came around again in rotation, it felt like I got a bit more out of it. I still feel like I’m piecing together fragments of the story being told…I mean, you’ll get the idea when you listen – it’s about finding that specialness that defines us – but at the same time, how the theme relates to you and your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions…well…it might just take you a bit longer to absorb the weight of all this in-full in realizing just how much it applies to your own life. While there’s a more threadbare list of ingredients that make up the DNA of this song by comparison to the rest, dilated proves that his voice is genuinely all he needs to accompany a hint of guitar – to me, “Saudade” is the very definition of captivating & one of the best examples of Spoken-word done right that I’ve ever personally experienced.
Ending with the title-track, there’s no doubt that it does take a lot out of ya to go through the wild ideas and varied sound of this record from start to finish – but if you can handle it all, I promise ya it’s been time well spent and an adventurous experience filled with significantly endearing & evocative moments combined. “This Is What I’d Fill Nothing With” will serve as a restoration of the energy in the finale for some of you out there – for others like me, we’re asking this song to fill the impossible shoes of coming after “Saudade” – which in my opinion, could have probably made for a more conclusive ending overall. Having “This Is What I’d Fill Nothing With” roar us back into place after the album’s only dedicated Spoken-word track gives our ears the impression that we’re about to fire this whole adventure on up again, rather than come to its definitive end. Hard to really complain about that though – “This IS What I’d Fill Nothing With” is still a quality cut on this record, even if it’s among the twisty-side of this set in terms of its design and the average set of everyday ears being able to stick with its ever-morphing structure; I’m pretty sure if you’ve made it this far on dilated’s debut record, you’re ready for it at this point after experiencing so much sonic diversity already prior. At its most intense, “This Is What I’d Fill Nothing With” stands out as it should…as it drifts into a few spots, it might struggle a bit more to retain your full attention…but at the end of the day, there are jaw-dropping moments within this tune you certainly wouldn’t wanna miss out on either. So don’t! A ton of detail & effort has been put into this whole album, and that’s certainly not lost on any of us listening – it’s a set of sincerely crafted songs & material that’s got a ton of thought put into every moment you’ll hear – and that level of dedication is always enticing if you ask me. “This Is What I’d Fill Nothing With” had the toughest spot in the lineup to fill in my opinion, but I’m still stoked on the majority of what it’s got to offer & the heights of the hooks that dilated discovers are straight-up gripping to listen to. And heck – if it makes you feel like this whole album is about to start up all over again, maybe that’s not just a good thing, but a great thing – maybe it’s that exact feeling that makes you reach over to push repeat, buy the ticket, and take the ride for another round of highly introspective tunes that feel like dilated is peering right into the center of your hearts & minds, forming a real connection through relatable self-doubt & questioning we all experience individually, but universally as well.
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