As unusual as it is for a bike-riding E.T. to inspire songwriting, even more curious allusions and metaphors are contained in Tumbleweed, the fourth release from Big Something. This six-person band out of North Carolina prides itself on fusing such genres as rock, jazz and reggae. This is also the new album’s biggest strength, keeping it from settling on a dominant musical style. The same goes for the lyrics, which cover everything from alien invasion and zombie attacks—all in a way that exceeds expectations.
The title track does much to unveil the album's risk-taking direction with its unconventional mishmash of influences—including hip-hop, alternative rock, and synthy electronica—and descriptive lyrics by lead vocalist Nick MacDaniels that paint a seemingly unending desert, where vultures see you as little more than “a bag of bones.”
Not to be outshined, "Song for Us" (my personal favorite) mixes percussion, guitar, and keyboard for a mellow, summery, reggae-inspired song that tells a relatable message about feelings of disconnection and confusion, as with this key line from the chorus: ‘Cause it's a fine line to ride in your mind when you find, The signs sometimes are pointed in the wrong direction, But we still got a long way to go
The engaging production, along with positive lyrics, makes "Song for Us" a winning, feel-good song that gets better with each listen.
Tracks last five to ten minutes and follow a structure where lyrical verse is followed by lengthy breakdowns that put multiple instruments on display. Much to the band’s credit, this formula doesn’t overstay its welcome. In the funk-meets-rock hybrid "UFOs are Real," vocals with palpable excitement (They're flying, they're flying, they're flying, they're flying!) are benched as a saxophone takes the lead, blending well with the smooth vibe established prior to its introduction.
The title track does much to unveil the album's risk-taking direction with its unconventional mishmash of influences...
"Waves" marks one of few occasions where Big Something goes all-in with a genre of choice (rock), but even here, there are stylistic shifts—hard rock towards the end, while more pop at the chorus. MacDaniels’ vocals show similar fluctuation and are husky in places, such as at the tail end of the pre-chorus, which boasts the memorable lyric: "The brightest light, it always comes/ from the darkest places."
And then you have a song like "Passenger," animated and fast-moving with a stringy, folk-like production (banjo, drums and even saxophone) fit for a Wild West train chase, effectively capturing the metaphoric imagery painted by the lyrics, which compare time to a steam locomotive. From top to bottom, Tumbleweed is full of these nods to fantastical settings (“The Flood" centers around a zombie showdown!) and lends to an engaging listen.
For an album that takes risks left and right to portray a previously-uncharted voyage, Tumbleweed is oddly comforting. While the group sings about having a long way to go in "Song for Us," that lyric has no business being applied to Big Something's efforts on Tumbleweed as a whole. They've made something worthwhile with this album. I came away feeling energized and eager for more.
8,375 out of 10,000 Rawckus Kung Fu Throwing Stars