Artist: Flint Eastwood
Album: Small Victories EP
In Brief: Flint Eastwood fits nicely among some of the other female-fronted dance-pop and electronica artists that I listen to, who emphasize wit and songcraft above mere sex appeal in their quest to get their music heard.
“What kind of stupid name is that?”
Come on, if you’re a fan of the movie Back to the Future III, you know you were thinking that too. I have no idea how Jax Anderson, the lead singer and now the sole member of Flint Eastwood, went about choosing her band’s name. It’s obviously meant as a reference to actor Clint Eastwood, and possibly to the city of Flint, Michigan, which is about an hour from Detroit, the city Anderson calls home. It tells you pretty much nothing about her music, at least in its current incarnation, as she tends to take a youthful dance-pop approach on her latest EP Small Victories, which is highly addictive, but doesn’t exactly bring to mind gritty gunslinging heroes or angry old men talking to empty chairs. Just from the name, you’re probably not gonna go in expecting a female voice to begin with, which is actually kind of a nice surprise. It’s just one of those things that makes me wonder. (Adding to my confusion, I first heard of her by way of a remix of the track “Vitals” from MuteMath‘s Changes album, where she added vocals to a previously instrumental track, and I didn’t know if Flint Eastwood was the name of the remixer or the actual vocalist. Either way, it piqued my interest and I had to hit up Spotify to see what else she had done.)
I don’t know what happened in either late 2014 or early 2015 to suddenly convert Flint Eastwood from a full-fledged band to essentially a solo project, or what they sounded like before. But Small Victories, an EP which is almost two years old now, seems like a pretty effective introduction of a new artist if that’s how she intends to spin it. The hooks are pretty much immediate. The bits of live instrumentation that elevate the already-catchy programmed pop music indicate some real thought being put into the tone and texture of each song. The lyrics are personal, relatable, and occasionally include bits of humorous self-deprecation. And I’m sure you could dance to this sucker if you were inclined to do so. The hypnotic vocal effects and rhythmic breaks on a few of these tracks make them feel tailor-made for a club setting, without forgetting that they’re actual songs with lyrics that are worth paying attention to. In that sense, Flint Eastwood fits comfortably alongside artists like Chvrches and Sylvan Esso that I’ve fallen in love with in recent years and find myself returning to again and again. (Also the aforementioned MuteMath. Maybe a little bit of Lights, too.) Pretty much all of these elements guarantee that this EP hits my sweet spot. There’s really not much of anything bad I could think to say about it, other than maybe once or twice where it wears its influences a little too obviously on its sleeve. I just wish I’d discovered it before it was almost two years old. I guess the silver lining there is that a full-length LP has to be in the works at some point soon… right?
1. Find What You’re Looking For
The lead track on this EP does such a great job of capturing my attention immediately with a memorable vocal hook, which later becomes the basis of its chorus melody. It also captures me on an emotional level by taking a very simple “follow your heart” type of message and adding some personal death to it, as if the advice being given that “The road less traveled on is where you’ll find what you’re looking for” is coming from someone who has either passed away or else can’t be physically near for very long. That feeling of someone being temporarily part of your life but changing you permanently resonates throughout this song, which is both upbeat and tranquil at the same time. I can’t describe the metallic percussion sounds used throughout this song as anything but “hypnotic”. Put it all together, and it’s the rare song that you could both dance and meditate to.
The glowing synths, stuttering beats, and what I can only called “smeared” bass on this track immediately make it stand out as one of Flint Eastwood’s more aggressive numbers. You can pick out the influences from a few contemporary dance genres, but it’s all in service of a song that has a reason to be using all of these sounds. The analogy used for a chaotic world in which two kindred souls are trying to find each other seems to be that of a warzone, with bullets flying overhead and primitive, glitchy equipment being their only means of making contact. There’s a lot more going on in the lyrics than I fully understand. It’s a smartly written song with a full-throated chorus hook, the kind of thing that feels destined for the pop charts but without having dumbed anything down to get there.
This one’s got a laid back, nod-your-head sort of beat to it, and a synth bass line that, as much as I enjoy it, I have to admit feels like it’s been recycled from the Washed Out song “Feel It All Around” (best known as the Portlandia theme song). The lyrics here are simpler, about keeping a monster hidden in your room, having fears and shameful things that haunt you and not wanting to share them, but being assured by someone else that it’ll all be OK and you’re not as strange or hopeless as you might think. It’s ultimately a hopeful song with a feel-good chorus, and I enjoy the youthful mood of it – this might be where I’m reminded of Lights the most.
I shouldn’t forget to emphasize that, while Flint Eastwood clearly had a lot of fun getting all of the programming and synth sounds just right on this record, live instrumentation makes a big difference in a few of these tracks as well. That’s probably clearest on this electric guitar-driven track, which throws its hat into the increasingly crowded ring to compete for “biggest hook on the album” by starting right off with its chorus: “Oh, keep my eyes closed, keep my mind oblivious, oblivious!” It’s almost impossible for me not to sing along. Making mistakes and learning your lessons the hard way, but keeping a positive attitude about it, seems to be the general attitude here, and this is where I find Jax at her most self-deprecating, as she comments “Slow down, make it count/Think of the description/Who needs psychotherapy when the Internet will listen?” Oversharing on social media: Yeah, I’ve been there, done that. I like how she sums it up in the bridge of the song: “We all make mistakes, but we are not mistakes.” (At least, if I’m hearing that right. Accurate lyrics for these songs have proven hard to come by.) I like that she makes that distinction – we learn from mistakes, but they don’t define us. It’s nice to hear a little bit of wisdom and perspective in a musical setting where “just party and have fun” is about as much depth as we often get.
5. God Only Knows
Maybe it’s just me, but when somebody references the old spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, I can’t help but think of Princess Vespa from Spaceballs. Flint Eastwood isn’t covering the actual song, but is clearly alluding to it by saying “God only knows the trouble I’ve seen”, in a song that might actually make some sense in a space-aged setting, given the furious dance beats and the synth bouncing all over this thing once it really gets going. Should a song about being so troubled you can’t even bring it up in polite conversation, lest you trouble the people around you, be this upbeat? That’s a matter of some debate. But to me it comes across as defiant. Jax opens the song by singing, “Last year I lost my best friends”, and for all I know that could be her former bandmates or it could be someone else, but it would certainly explain the cathartic dance-pop style she’s pretty much perfected throughout this EP. This thing’s so catchy, I feel like it gives you like three chorus hooks for the price of one. That sounds like something Chvrches would do (ironically, minus the God stuff).
6. Small Victories
The title track is yet another banger – that seems to be Flint Eastwood’s default mode (to the point where I’m wondering how they’re going to handle the requisite downtempo track or two if/when they put out a full-length album). More stuttering synths and some classic, syncopated “dance club piano” adorn this track, which seems to find victory amidst failure, much like in the lyrics of “Oblivious”. To be truthful, I’m not tracking as much with the lyrics on this one, which include an odd refrain about “All my friends, smoking in the bathroom” – it gives me an unfortunate flashbacks to the ubiquitous fun. hit “We Are Young”, though thankfully there’s nothing going on musically here that reminds me of fun.’s precipitous descent into mainstream mediocrity. What really makes this one work are the male backing vocals that do a sort of call-and-response with Jax, lighting a fire under her to pick herself up after a disaster, brush herself off, get back to work and try again until she gets everything right. I think the song might be deliberately contrasting a solid work ethic with the temptation to just blow things off and act like youth will last forever. It’s an interesting thought to end the EP on, even though I think, as the title track, it should probably be upfront and let something more reflective like “Find What You’re Looking For” close out this little mini-album. But that’s a really minor complaint. This one would probably be a fun closing number for their live shows, complete with crowd participation, and that might have been the logic behind ending the recording with it as well.
WHAT’S IT WORTH TO ME?
Find What You’re Looking For $2
God Only Knows $1.50
Small Victories $1.25
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF: