Intimate and approachable aren’t always the first words that come to mind when you hear the phrase “experimental pop.” But the latest album from Cincinnati-based project A Delicate Motor shows that the unconventional doesn’t have to be inaccessible.
Fellover My Own is their first release on Sofaburn Records and their first outing as a trio, with frontman Adam Petersen bringing on drummer Ben Sloan and guitarist/bassist Stephen Patota. Imagine a less-symphonic Son Lux, and you’ve got something like their refreshingly minimalist take on experimental pop.
The sound has roots in Peterson’s background as a classically trained percussionist and pianist, but his voice is equally foundational. Its gentleness sets the tone for the record, like a supportive companion in troubled sonic waters.
Other parts of the sound follow suit, as on the quietly noisy “Fall Out.” Peterson and his kalimba are joined by the clinking of household-found percussion, including a spinning bike wheel credited to Sloan. Overlapping rhythms build into a familiar, everyday clatter, which fades into the underlying warmth of what sounds like upright bass. Even the chaos is intimate in a reflective, personal arrangement.
Elsewhere, the energy swells to a fever pitch, and a disciplined hand keeps it from boiling over. Heavy, driven bass ebbs and flows through “Bottom,” with synth swells and crashing cymbals threatening to take the track into full-on noise jam territory. For every upswing, there’s a comedown close behind in Peterson’s piano breaks, and the cymbals are kept in check by a thick and hazy filter. When it comes to releasing energy, control is crucial.
Throughout the album, Peterson uses disciplined introspection as a means to a practical end. As he explains in the album’s Bandcamp description, Fellover My Own aims “to cultivate compassion and celebration for humanity in their effort to evolve according to what is true and good.”
That evolution plays out in the looping and layering of his composition, and many tracks on Fellover My Own go out of their way to draw attention to that often-improvisational process. Peterson’s lyrics tend to shift through similar sounding phrases, as though iterating through repeated vocalizations. “Surely for me / slowly for me / so far from me / so so sorry,” he chants over the hypnotic two-note kalimba loop of the opening track, “Do For Self.”
Those places, where performance and composition live side by side, give the record its meditative energy. Repetitious figures like the synth arpeggios of “Man On Fire” build atmosphere, but also a platform for improvisation, and that’s where Peterson & Co. highlight the ritualistic process of loop-based music. To situate yourself in the rhythm of the loop is to focus on your place in the moment; it’s a music-making technique as well as an exercise in mindfulness and self-improvement.
“It is the trifle of the human experience, that by endeavouring to manifest a higher self, or spiritual awareness, we paradoxically inhibit ourselves within our very striving,” Peterson writes. Also paradoxically, he’s using cyclical loop music to break the cycle. “The messages here intend to relieve the listener from this paradox, of falling over one’s own devices, and instead begin to move with conscious choosing.”
Lyrically, that attitude becomes apparent in “Middle” and its directive to reach outside the self. “I sympathize with your struggle / may be time to circumnavigate your bubble,” Peterson sings. The track begins with a sense of unease; it explores the distance between people in far-off percussion and restless piano runs, but blooms into something anthemic, seeing hope for meaningful connection in spite of all the obstacles.
Themes of connection carry through to the album closer, “Carry Us.” Though this track stands out as Peterson’s most personal effort, featuring only his piano and voice, it also contains one of his most prescriptive verses. “Be kind when you feed your body / be wise when you use your mind / think of your neighbor’s children,” he sings, quieting to a whisper, inviting you to lean in close and really listen. In a political climate where those in power have made looking out for your own kind at the expense of others into a twisted kind of virtue, it’s an impactful sentiment.
To hear firsthand the transformative power of reaching outside the self, you only have to compare the original solo recording of “Do For Self” with the version that appears on the album. Adding Sloan and Patota has enabled A Delicate Motor to gather more from its concepts and venture deeper into its soundscapes, now steered along rich bass and drum currents.
Since the release, the band has doubled in size, incorporating singer Libby Landis, singer/guitarist Brianna Kelly, and singer/pianist Rachel Mousie, bringing even more opportunities for the future. Fellover My Own is a purposefully great exercise in experimental pop–welcoming and challenging all at once, like one of Kid A’s well-adjusted cousins–and perhaps the best is yet to come.