Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Jon Black Is Back With Fort Atlantic

Take a look behind the curtain of upstart band Fort Atlantic and you'll discover singer/songwriter Jon Black. When his small Georgia-based label closed three years ago, Black wasn't ready to pack up on the music. He was only getting started after moving to Birmingham, Alabama.

There is something remarkable happening for him and the eclectic mix of musicians like Josh Cannon, Trevor Newberry, and Kenny Hutson (among others) who are helping him out. The music, while carrying consistent undertones across his 10-track album, is diversely creative and wildly deep.

Fort Atlantic redefines DIY by bridging the analog and digital divide for a new debut. 

Although Black had an assist by Tom Schick (Wilco, Ryan Adams) with the mixing, he wrote, recorded, and produced the self-titled album mostly on his own. He poured in every cent of his savings to build a modest home studio and went to work.

While Black had some advantages (having owned his own indie label and putting out music as a soloist), he didn't have all the answers. What he had instead was the determination to learn whatever he didn't know.

"The idea of making a record myself wasn't to hire someone for every instrument and then put my guitar and vocal on it," says Black. "While I did ask friends to play on the record, I was more interested in pushing my creative limits. If I didn't know how to play something and had access to it, I would learn."

While Black's ambition is admirable, it's not necessarily unique. What is unique is that listening to Fort Atlantic will never give you any indication it came together that way. The self-titled debut is one of the better solo indie albums put out this year.

The lead track, No One Will Know, is the standout. The song is brilliant and an excellent choice to reintroduce Black and his new sound and a live session inside the Avon Theater, even if it requires some work to listen to it. By work, I mean that the song kicks off after a quirky and inexplicably long introduction (1:25 into the video) followed by another super-long extended build (2:05 into the video).

The album version is different, cutting into the meat on the quick, with Black relying on much more than a drums assist, guitar, and vocals. The strength of it is in the steady build and the resolution found within the lyrics — a song about giving yourself an excuse to cut loose and chase dreams.

The album follows with the equally inspired but less melodic Career Advice, an indie rocker with guitar distorts and restrained vocals. Reminiscent of a vintage road trip rocker, it wants to played on the highway with the top down.

After the first two songs, Black takes the album down a notch with a folksier sound that is much closer to his other work (but with an improved and fuller sound). Up From The Ground and Let Your Heart Hold Fast are also worth a listen, with the latter falling somewhere in between rock and indie pop.

The most ambitious track is easily the nine-minute I'm Wrong, which dabbles in meandering electronica until bending itself into an experimental rock instrumental and then again into a psychedelic folk rock song with vocals. It's the kind of song you long to see live. It's easy to get lost in it.

The bottom half of the album skews lighter with mix of folk-tinged rock/pop ballads. Most of them are fine, even if Black is best served up as an indie rocker. Movie Screens is the best pick of the five, with its big airy, cinematic feel. Black strains one line too much in New York Lights, but the rest of it  carries. The harmonica hook works.

Fort Atlantic's Self-Titled Album Drives By 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

If there is any downside to Black handling everything from start to finish, it's the track arrangement. The album starts strong, but then each subsequent track loses energy. By the end of it, the energy and enthusiasm have all but dissipated.

It's not unlike his initial limited release on a NES cartridge. The idea is deliciously cool, but the casing and statement detract from what's inside. The NES cartridge is sold out, but the self-titled album is also on iTunes. Fort Atlantic is also on Amazon and you can order the CD from Barnes & Noble.
blog comments powered by Disqus