Artist: Flint Eastwood
Album: Broke Royalty EP
In Brief: While this EP features a bolder sound than 2015’s Small Victories, the production tends to de-emphasize the songwriting. It’s fun, but I don’t connect with it as deeply as I do with some of Flint’s earlier songs. Also, the re-inclusion of two of those songs is mildly distracting.
It was only a few months ago that I first caught up with Flint Eastwood, the Michigan-based band-turned-solo project that put out the excellent Small Victories EP in 2015. I played the heck out of that thing in December and January because I was fascinated with nearly every song on it. Jax Anderson, who for all intents and purposed is Flint Eastwood these days, hasn’t followed up with a full-length LP yet, presumably because she’s still in the process of paying her dues and building up enough of a following to make a full album worthwhile. It’s how a lot of indie artists start out, or restart after a radical reinvention. I get that. Her Broke Royalty EP, released this spring, is one of those efforts that comes busting out of the gate like it’s shooting for the moon. She’s found some even bolder ways to express her brand of danceable electropop through unique sounds and sentiments. It’s the sort of record that immediately let’s you know she’s taking full ownership of this artistic endeavor, and would sure love to capture the public’s attention with a viral single that catapults her to the next stage in an already promising career. Assuming I’m reading her ambitions right, I’m fully on board with them.
What hits me right away on Broke Royalty is that the persona Anderson has cultivated seems to depend more on the production style of the music than the phrasing of her words this time around. Sometimes there’s so much going on in either the instrumentation or the manipulation of vocal sounds that I find myself losing track of the actual words. This just isn’t as “singable” of a set of songs as her last EP, even though it is quite an enjoyable set. I know pretty much what she’s trying to communicate right away as its first few tracks blare loudly and proudly that she’s a hard-working artist hustling to make ends meet, and it’s an admirable way to introduce herself to a larger crowd (I’m guessing, at least) than the folks who tuned in for Small Victories. The two EPs have a largely triumphant attitude in common; she just takes a few more risks in expressing that attitude here. There are a few less cluttered tracks later in the album where I feel like she peels back the bravado and shows us more of a multifaceted personality, as she did on Small Victories… but that’s mostly because a few of those tracks were already on that EP.
So yeah, she went ahead and released two of the same songs on this project (“Glitches” and “Monster”) that were on her last one. I’m not 100% sure how I feel about that, since as far as I can tell, they weren’t re-recorded or remixed in any noticeable way. Maybe slightly remastered. I don’t even know if new fans will notice or care – my guess is that these two tracks were potential singles from her old project that didn’t quite get the exposure she was hoping for or that she didn’t have the time/money to give a music video treatment yet. I don’t know. They were both in my bottom three out of six from the last EP, personally – which means they’re still good songs, just not songs I was strongly interested in hearing the exact same recording of again (and for that matter, paying for again on iTunes). Feel free to call me out on my hypocrisy here, because I’ve praised a few favorite artists in the past (Trails and Ways, The Hawk in Paris, etc.) who re-used highlights from a previously released EP on a full-length album, without any noticeable reworking of those songs. I like finally getting to hear favorite songs in an “album” context, where I can presume they fit into a larger picture overall. Having tracks show up on multiple EPs with no apparent regard for their placement in the track listing doesn’t do as much for me. Again, I need to emphasize that nobody will care about this if they’re new to Flint Eastwood. It’s just one of those things that makes me wonder, and that if I’m honest, kind of detracts from my excitement about the new directions she’s starting to experiment with here.
The horn fanfare combined with a hip-hop-inspired rhythm at the beginning of this song tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Flint’s attitude on this release. It’s her battle anthem, which loudly proclaims, “I’m a queen, not a soldier”, and it was written with the clear intent to establish that she takes a back seat to no one where creative control of her music is concerned. I guess she’d been getting a lot of questions about whether it’s hard for her as a woman working in the music industry, and it had never even occurred to her that her role as bandleader should be viewed differently because she was a woman. I like the forthright attitude of this song, and it’s a lot of fun, but I have to say that her shouting at the end of the chorus – “‘Cause I’m the queen right here!” seems a bit awkward. I can’t help but think of the inexplicably popular meme “Cash me outside, how bow dah?” when she does this. (Ah, memes. You make it difficult to take so many things in life seriously these days.)
This song might be the most radical departure from the Flint we’ve heard before. The same confident attitude is still there, but the way that the song builds from the jerky, stuttering piano chords in the first verse to a smooth electropop beat in the chorus is bound to be a bit jarring for first-time listeners. What’s perhaps more jarring is the prominent use of a guest vocalist, Tunde Olaniran, in a heavily auto-tuned chorus. I don’t hate the auto-tuning just on principle – it actually gives the song a similar vibe to something The Weeknd might do – but it rather conspicuously distorts both Tunde’s and Jax’s vocals, which I guess some folks could find annoying. As much as I think it’s weird for Jax to declare that she’s the one in charge on the first track and then hand off a good amount of the lead vocal work to a quest on the second track, I do think it makes sense to bring him in early so that it’ll seem less sudden when he takes over with his sung/spoken hybrid approach in the bridge. We’re so used to rappers appearing out of nowhere in popular music these days that it can often feel shoehorned into a song, whereas this feels like a genuine collaboration between two artists. For all of the bluster provided by the electronic manipulation, I have to say that the chorus falls a bit short of the wall-of-sound production – “Running on the line, running on the line, running on the line/I’m in love with this feeling” just doesn’t turn out to be a very strong hook, lyrically or melodically. Tunde’s bridge is also quite repetitive – I love the buildup of energy in his voice until his scream kicks the song back into chorus mode, but I’m not getting a whole lot from the lyrics other than that it takes a lot of pushing and shoving and hard work to keep your head above water in the music biz. This song might have the most enjoyable vibe of anything on this EP, but it definitely lets style win out over substance in the songwriting department.
This track also features a guest artist – in this case a producer rather than a vocalist. Fellow Detroit-area native GRiZ handles all the knob-twisting and level-manipulating and whatnot, resulting in an otherwise straightforward, chilled-out song about wanting to go back to a more innocent time in one’s life getting squiggled all over with warbling synth sounds and a dizzying array of stuttering vocal samples. The effect is similar to the title track from MuteMath‘s Changes album (which is ironic, since I first discovered Flint Eastwood through her appearance on this album’s remix of “Vitals”). I enjoy the overall sound of it, but at some points the song feels like a remix of an original version that we never got to hear. Try to sing along with the chorus, and you’ll sound like a complete idiot when all of the sampling kicks in. However, it’s not all laptop-generated madness, as a pretty slick bass groove comes in on the second verse, which is also a very MuteMath-y thing to do. Lyrically, while I can appreciate the sentiment Flint’s going for, she’s not at her best here, relying on tired rhymes like “Open up my heart/Choose a different way to start” and “What if we always learned to love ourselves/What if we never put our dreams on the shelf.” That’s two tracks in a row where the overall vibe of the song is the main thing keeping me engaged as it tries to make up for weak songwriting. This isn’t a good sign.
4. Assemble Kids
“Rewind” ends with a flurry of synth sounds before abruptly cutting off, while this one has a bit of an abrupt beginning. The pause between the two feels like a wasted opportunity for a slick transition. Oh well. This song doesn’t have as engaging of a rhythm or overall vibe to it, but I think it’s melody might be a bit more memorable. I definitely get the chorus stuck in my head as Flint (who is either multi-tracked or singing along with members of her production posse – I’m assuming the latter since she recorded this in a place called “Assemble Studios”) sings passionately, “We don’t gotta dollar but at least we’ve got our freedom/Down on the bottom, yeah we live life for the feeling.” This track might explain the “broke” part of the album’s title, since she is still an indie artist trying to make ends meet, and given that, she’s done an excellent job of making a (presumably) small budget sound like a big one. Her dedication to doing things her own way comes across loud and clear here. I find it interesting that a male vocalist (I’m not sure who) gets to take the outro part, which ties it back to the “royalty” theme as he sings, “They cannot keep me down/I come alive once they see my crown.”
I gave this appropriately computerized, stuttering track an A- when I first reviewed it on Small Victories. While I do still enjoy it, its presence next to the bolder and more swagger-y sound of some of these new tracks highlights a few weaknesses that hadn’t occurred to me before. That same problem I pointed out in “Push”, of its hook having empty space in it that doesn’t seem like it belongs there, is also an issue here, which works against the momentum of the song and keeps it from fully taking flight. I should also point out that I’m appreciate the intricate rhymes in the verses more this time around than I originally did: “Braids like Frida Kahlo/Cigarette smoking shallow/A tattoo drag, leather backpack/Her stripes don’t always follow” is a way more intriguing set of opening lines than anything heard in her new material thus far. I do sincerely hope that presenting this song again here gets it the chance at single exposure that Flint seems to be positioning it for.
6. Slipping Away
There weren’t any ballads to speak of on Small Victories, so this sparser track, which still has a streetwise beat but which maintains more of a mellow groove throughout, is really my first exposure to Flint’s more pensive side. The lyrics thankfully don’t follow the trend that her other new songs have established – with fewer distractions in the production, she has to bring the goods, and she does so by taking a look at people who are both less fortunate and more fortunate than her, wondering if she’s as “out of touch” living in her own privileged bubble as the rich guys in suits seem to be when they look at her with a complete lack of empathy. The lyric “What do I know?/Church ladies with their hands on their pocketbooks/Giving loose change out to a criminal, ’cause it’s biblical” is certainly an eye-opener, highlighting some folks’ tendency to casually throw money at a problem without really making the effort to understand it or get personally involved. If I had to make one criticism here, it’s that the minimalist bridge, which strips the song back to just its beat and some pitch-shifted vocal samples, seems to need the song prematurely before it can come back around to a more poignant conclusion than just “It’s gonna get better.”
I don’t have a whole lot new to say about this one that I didn’t say in my Small Victories review. As with “Glitches”, my opinion of it may have diminished slightly this time around, but it’s still positive overall. I still enjoy the mellow electronica, Washed Out sort of vibe, the video game-like bleeps and bloops, the chorus about making it through the night and defeating your personal demons. I’m honestly not sure what motivated Flint to place it as the closing track on this EP, since I’m used to “Oblivious” coming after it (and if she was going to repurpose tracks from that EP as potential singles this time around, I’d have vastly preferred that one). But then, the title track from “Small Victories” also felt like an abrupt ending, so that makes “Monster” feel like less of a closer and more of a freebie bonus track thrown in for those who didn’t get to hear it the first time around.
WHAT’S IT WORTH TO ME?
Assemble Kids $1
Slipping Away $1.25
(Or $6 if you already bought the Small Victories EP, I guess.)
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF: