Philosofree & Optimysts – Philosofree – Album Review
Well it’s certainly been more than a minute since we last heard from Philosofree & Optimysts – it was way back in 2016 that I was last checking out their music, and it seems they’ve been plenty busy since then! All kinds of records & music put out between my original review and this one here today – it’s always great to reconnect with the creative folks out there in this music scene we share I tell ya – let’s do this!
You’ll always find the lyricism of Philosofree to be one of this band’s main strengths, and “Ordinary” proves that remains to be true to this very day, starting this album out with some of my favorite words to be found on the album, and quite arguably one of the best guitar solos on Philosofree as well. It’s an interesting cut that’s almost like something like a Cohen or a Cave in melancholy & mellow lounge style vibe that’s got a real classic touch to it like something you’d find from ol’ Blue Eyes. It’s a dusty opening – I’ll give ya that…there’s always a bit of risk in starting out an album with a slower cut, but there’s also no doubt that it also leaves the opportunity open for that next track to raise the stakes energy-wise, which “The Only One That I Can Change Is Me” will go on to provide. I really enjoyed this first cut myself – I felt like “Ordinary” was as insightful as it was interesting, and came out with a real natural & organic sound to it that flowed fluidly, especially when considering the complexities of this concept. Personally that was probably my favorite part – don’t get me wrong, it sounds good, but the idea itself is pure gold – to me this song was about the struggle to find those spaces in life where we don’t feel so “Ordinary.” Whether it’s a place you call home, or a person that makes you feel ten times the person you are without’em, or a passion that seems to bring more out of you somehow than anything else can – the ability to feel EXTRAordinary is within all of our grasp…it’s about perception & perspective. The real key to life is to be able to appreciate those moments where we DO feel “Ordinary” every bit as much, as hard as that may seem…Philosofree gets it, clearly – it’s all about celebrating even the little things in life.
“The Only One That I Can Change Is Me” – now there’s a philosophy from Philosofree that I can fully get behind! Dude’s diving deep towards the roots of Rock & the Blues/Gospel sound on this track…it’s a tough one to examine in the sense that a lot of what you’ll hear in the melody guiding the vocals borrows from what’s been tried, tested, and true throughout music’s history…but I do dig the words that Philosofree has put into this cut once again. Sometimes you just wanna turn those amplifiers UP and rock out for a moment or two…no one has to be recreating the wheel every single time they plug in – Philosofree is havin’ some genuine fun playing “The Only One That I Can Change Is Me” and it’d be hard not to want to join in on it. There are some fantastic vocals happening in the background, another highlight solo with absolutely killer texture and tone in the guitar…and clearly our main man up front on the mic is having himself a good ol’ time as well…ultimately, as familiar as much of “The Only One That I Can Change Is Me” might seem, that pays off for Philosofree in the end by adding to its accessibility.
Listen to THIS meaty groove though will ya? Man – the way that “Thaw Your Heart” begins is downright TOO GOOD…almost like it was inviting a challenge to how smooth things appeared to be for a moment there. I’m gonna have to call this like I’m hearin’ it Philosofree…good tune, but it’s gonna need the ol’ remix treatment. The reason why is right there on display for ya, right there in the mix – and the clues come through the difference between what you hear at the start, and the impact the vocals make when they come into play. “Thaw Your Heart” was off to a tremendous beginning, with the levels in all the right spots and a great mix on what’s a seriously thick & rich groove no one could deny…but rather than slide into it all comfortably here, the vocals get thrown directly on top, dominating absolutely everything else we hear, and that’s becoming a slight concern on this record. Don’t get me wrong, stylistically, sometimes a song calls for that, sometimes not, and no doubt personal preference comes into play as well. To me, the effect of having those vocals so prevalent on the top of the mix shrunk everything else down way beyond where it should be…the reality is, there’s a heck of a lot of AMAZING stuff happening in the music on “Thaw Your Heart” that should arguably play the starring role…I think doing anything less than featuring that as the most noticeable aspect of this song might be to its detriment overall. The bass-lines in this tune alone are worth the price of admission y’all…but admittedly, the outright sensational musicianship on this track has more of a challenge in reaching our ears after the intro than perhaps it should have become. It’s be really tough to outshine the instrumentation on this tune were it not for the advantages of the mix…serve what suits the song best my friends, that’s always the priority.
“Elephant In The Room” was an interesting spin on what the wrong dinner party might be like I suppose – it’s hard for me to say, I’m usually the “Elephant In The Room” myself. Many of Philosofree’s tunes are somewhat of a vehicle for the words, and this would be a solid example of that…as a song, it’s a bit on the loose side for sure, but by that same token, it’s 2:20 in length & serves as its own singular moment. Not so much about the hooks if you’re catching my drift…more about the art & expressing what Philosofree wants to say, which in this particular scenario, is a commentary on what’s actually not being said at all. Call me crazy, but I appreciate that kind of irony. I don’t think that’s the main intention of the song overall, I think that’s just a natural byproduct of comparing Philosofree as a band to this particular cut, but it’s still another unique access point that leads to another layer of enjoyment. Like I said, I AM the “Elephant In The Room” and pretty much always have been…at some point in time, I’m probably just gonna say whatever it is I have to say regardless of the consequences to follow. To me, that’s honesty…to others, it’s just horrifying – I’ve learned to live with it and tend to rest in the escapism of the idea that I’m serving some kind of greater good for our evolution as a whole…how narcissistic is THAT eh? I prefer altruistic obviously, but I’m open to interpretation. The real bottom line is, you can go through life ridin’ with the “Elephant In The Room,” or you can BE the elephant & stomp out the BS. It’s just like that quote we all know has always said – “BE the elephant you want to see in the world.”
“Standing Up For What’s Right For Me” is pretty interesting…almost kind of like a loose, Led Zeppelin Houses Of The Holy-esque type vibe goin’ on, with words that will certainly have both sides of the political fence assuming it’s about what they believe & not the other way around, which I think is cool. My experience with songs like this kinda tell me which side of the fence Philosofree’s comin’ at ya from, but I think for the most part, the vast majority of people wouldn’t be able to tell, leaving them to adopt this as their anthem & audible freedom flag. I really love the drums and the guitars in the tune – I dig the personality you’ll find in the vocals…and lines like, “It is just as hard for me to accept your position as it is for you to accept me” are as truly insightful as they are accurate. Obviously we could have a whole mini-debate over this one tune…but it’s kinda made its own argument for things being how they are, so it’s probably best I leave my simulation-theory believin’ behind outta this one and respectfully bow out before I go on a tangent about how the illusion of control is purely all we’ve ever had…another time. I think above all things, I appreciate how a song like “Standing Up For What’s Right For Me” documents a lot of what’s happening out there in the world right now & the consistent back & forth between sides as we all try to find our way back to some kind of middle ground out there. “Standing Up For What’s Right For Me” highlights both the solution and the problem itself ultimately – it’s important to keep those rights & freedoms we all enjoy of course, but the individual perspective indicated right there in the title is a lot of what’s holding us back from achieving the objectives we’re seeking out together, you feel me?
The uniqueness you can hear in a track like “Chispas De Amor” makes itself instantly known. It’s got a Latin/Jazz influence of course, but there’s much more creativity & art involved here, as Philosofree is so known to incorporate. While I don’t have a ton of experience in listening to their music, what I’ve heard to-date certainly embraces creative freedom with open arms as wide as you’ve ever seen’em, and a song like “Chispas De Amor” highlights how Philosofree is able to take something you know and twist it into an all-new experience. I have the feeling that there’s not really too many lines that go straight from point-A to point-B when it comes to looking at the music of Philosofree…this is a band that proudly deviates from the norm in search of something new we haven’t heard, and that’s always appreciated from this side of the speakers over here. This quaint & low-key melody works well in their favor; all-in-all I ended up feeling like “Chispas De Amor” was really well-suited to the personality of this band and the mission Philosofree & Optimysts have been on to create new experiences for us listeners to enjoy.
From what I understand in what I’ve read, “For Aileen” was written in tribute to Phil’s sister, who “passed from her body into arms of love” towards the end of last year…sincere condolences my friend. To hear this song come out sounding so inspired truly speaks volumes on behalf of their relationship – “For Aileen” is all instrumental, and without question one of my favorite tracks on this entire album. I think there’s such wonderfully exploratory, expressive, skilled & inventive musicianship all throughout this record that it warmed my heart just to hear it get its due dedicated moment in the spotlight on “For Aileen” to begin with – the fact that it came out speaking more than words could ever say through the stunningly evocative sound was the audible cherry on top. While there’s often an improvisational feel to a lot of what Philosofree creates and that applies to the roaming structure & design of “For Aileen” much as it would any other – the reality is that when everything connects at that perfect moment in time together as one, the results are always moving and remarkably powerful. The guitar playing remains a remarkable asset and shines bright throughout “For Aileen,” the piano and violin are equally essential, the drums are right on the money with subtle precision…there’s a lot of love threaded into the atmosphere & aura of this song and you can genuinely feel it here…it’s a beautiful instrumental tribute.
Sometimes having the vocals right up at the top of the mix works out really well for Philosofree – “Lifeline” is probably one of the best examples of that approach to the sound delivering on what we wanna hear. The vocal effects I’m kinda neither here nor there on…I’m not opposed to’em, but I did feel like it was Phil’s natural persona & cleanest tones on the mic that really led this track to victory. Which in itself is interesting – to me, it was probably the verses that had the most allure and appeal to them as a result – but I’d also happily argue tooth & nail on behalf of “Lifeline” potentially containing some of the most memorable hooks you’ll find within its chorus. So there you go! Am I not an objective & fair benevolent king upon this mountain way up high or what? I’m kidding of course – I’m far from the judge of all things…I’m just here to call things as I hear’em – and I felt like “Lifeline” was a real shining example of a lot of what I love best in the music of Philosofree. There’s really nothing typical or expected about it, it’s artistically unique from so much of what’s happening in music today, and lyrically, it’s without question one of my favorites on this record, if not the whole rack of tunes I know by Philosofree so far. There’s real poetry & heart in the words of “Lifeline” that are spectacularly gorgeous and written with vivid detail…I’d have a real hard time citing a song that would top the words of this particular cut for me on Philosofree…considering that’s always one of their strongest elements, that’s really saying something.
So don’t get me wrong…if Philosofree considers the vocals to be the main draw of the music being made here, then of course, keep it turned up as the dominant element of the mix…but if that’s the case, I’d say to make about half the extraordinary effort that’s being made with the instruments as it stands. Philosofree can make that a more challenging aspect of the song to get to on tracks like “Thaw Your Heart” earlier on, or “Jamie” later in the set-list. There’s an attempt at balancing through the addition of solos & whatnot…but that’s not really what I’m gettin’ at; and I like that the music always gets its deserved moment in the spotlight at some point…but I suppose overall I really feel like it deserves at least equal billing the whole distance through. Again, from my perspective, a lot of what Philosofree creates is centered just as much around the words as it would be around the music…I suppose when you consider that, it’s kinda only fair that each of these elements gets an opportunity to play the starring role. To be truthful, at a lower volume, I felt like “Jamie” came out a bit more fairly balanced…but if I turned it up, that’s when I started to really hear how the vocals were sitting up top maybe just a bit too much. And I like my music loud Philosofree…so take it all with a grain of salt my friends, it’s probably more on me than it is on anyone in this band here…”Jamie” is a still a strong cut on the record, played in a minimalist & mellow style…I’ve still got a lot of love for this track even if I might hear more potential in it. Philosofree works the low-key grooves & melodies well, and “Jamie” is a solid representation of that.
I don’t know that “Cuteiful” came out as quite as strong of a hook as it feels like it’s supposed to feel like it is as we listen, you following me? Like…it’s performed with confidence…almost like as if we’re in on it before it has had a chance to catch on…and…I don’t know that we are Philosofree; I think sometimes a great idea can get the better of us a little bit, and “Cuteiful” kind of seems like that to me. I feel like we’re relying on a potential buzz-word & somewhat of a gimmick here, and not quite enough to back it up. Then there’s that like…large part of the song where it feels like one note is being leaned on in the background like a subtle car horn off in the distance…most people probably won’t hear that, but that sound was really warping my ability to absorb the rest of this cut at the same time. I appreciate the sentiment of a love-song as much as anyone…so I ain’t hatin’ on what drives a tune like “Cuteiful” to be written…I’m just not so convinced that the word itself has as much charm as it was hoping to carry. Vocally…I think Philosofree walks a real fine line here at times, while also delivering some real highlights in the process too – I ended up being very much on the fence about the inclusion of this track into the lineup of Philosofree, more-so than any of the rest in the set. I think there’s potential for “Cuteiful” to be effective in the long run, but I do feel like this one’s still more of an idea in its incubation stage in comparison to what it could become later on. Cuttin’ out a “Cuteiful” reference here & there might end up goin’ a long way…subtractin’ that strange lasting horn in the background…sharpening up the vocal melody when it needs it the most…no one’s gotta take my word for anything, but that’s how I hear it.
Another tributary tune to a fallen friend really brings out the best of Philosofree as tragedy turns into art and a celebratory dose of sweet nostalgia on “Dave’s Country” – which would definitely be a significant highlight for me on this album as well. While there are words that accompany the official posting of the song at Bandcamp where I’ve been tuning in from throughout this past week or so, I believe they serve more to add context than they were intended to be lyrics, and so what you’ll hear is all-instrumental. Both “For Aileen” and “Dave’s Country” tap into the real heart of sincerity in sound unlike any others you’ll find on the record, and it’s definitely something I’d be takin’ a long look at if I was in Philosofree. Lots of great stuff happening in the instrumentation of this band…but when you hear the true magic of it all at its most majestic, like the way they play “Dave’s Country” – this talented crew can be completely mesmerizing. There’s a very large part of me that feels like this came out as the record’s finest moment.
Bringin’ in the birds to lend an assist on the final track “Fly Away” – Philosofree ends the album on another strong tune that speaks volumes on behalf of what’s truly special in this band’s music. Hard to define in words really…in my opinion, “Fly Away” is one of those songs that’s pretty much beyond description for what makes it as great as it is…the best I can do is point to the melody you’ll find in both the vocals and the guitar on this cut…there’s an endearing & humble sincerity that connects instantly. I’ll admit…it’s not necessarily my favorite when it comes to the lyrics, but it IS appropriate, focused, and well-executed…I suppose thematically, it’s an idea I’ve heard explored many times. There’s a reason for that though…mainly us humans being the dreaming sort…and in that sense, there’s no doubt that “Fly Away” becomes a highly relatable song that speaks to our souls in a way that others can’t. We tend to get caught up in clever descriptions…or I know at least I do personally being a writer & all…but as I’ve even said right here in this very review, it’s all about serving the true needs of a song, and that’s exactly what Philosofree has done with “Fly Away” at the end here. Sometimes simplicity is the best way to go, or saying things directly, unfiltered & honest…”Fly Away” has that dreaming out loud feel to its whole vibe, and I think a whole lot of listening ears out there will certainly appreciate the conclusion it creates for this new album by Philosofree & Optimysts…it’s a beautiful song that really has everything it needed.
Find out more about Philosofree at the main website here: https://www.philcheney.com
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