Crayon Soul


Big Picnic Records, 2016

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


The very first single by Brooklyn-based indie pop outfit Corbu from their debut Crayon Soul, “Battles,” fits the tags “Brooklyn” and “indie pop” thoroughly: dreamy vocals…check; shimmering guitar and synth combo…check; sanitized and super-catchy melody…check. This is present-day indie pop at its finest! Right? Fortunately, neither “Battles” nor the other tracks that fit into the same catchy musical vein (“We Are Sound,” and “Neon Hallway”) act as templates for the rest of this debut album, which is far more interesting and unique than your average bubbly indie pop record.

Crayon Soul is inspired by animated sci-fi, a glimpse of which can be seen in the video for “Battles” (which itself is animated). And Corbu is un-shy in expressing this thematic nerdiness with their musical storytelling, much like a prog-rock band might be. Even though Corbu isn’t a prog-rock act, the offbeat prog-rock tendencies that they exhibit here and the risks that they take on this album are pretty impressive indeed.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The track “Watchmaker” is a prime example of how beautifully complex and strange Crayon Soul can get. This song starts off with a totally strange combination of slow and weird repetitive beats that sound like a stuck machine, paired with frontman Jonathan Graves’ vocals, which are sung with this spooky, echoing effect, as if he was trying to scare a six-year-old at a campfire. The song then goes through a few transformations, including one in which Graves’ vocals undergo another weird treatment, this one involving rhythmically repeating every word he utters…freaky! Before coming to an end, the track finally turns into a dreamy and brooding number with haunting singing; only this time, it is not goofy but poignant instead. If the cut “Battles” had a nemesis, “Watchmaker” would be it.

Apart from the few sunny pop songs, the rest of the cuts on Crayon Soul are pretty moody and wistful. The most melancholic of them all is the closing track “Dark Wave,” which is also musically the sparsest on this album, consisting of handclaps for beats and acoustic guitar played softly as the focal instruments. The sheer poignancy in the melody and the pensive singing make it a powerful and haunting track. Similarly, “Through Emptiness” is also minimal, but deeply haunting and powerful. The musical makeup of this song is slightly different, however, featuring spacey synths that sound like surreal electronic music.

With tracks like “Battles,” “We Are Sound,” and “Neon Hallway,” Corbu proves that they are very good at making great ear-candy indie pop music. But they deserve kudos for challenging their songwriting and musical capabilities, and for daring to make an album that is far more difficult than those three cuts would suggest. The Floyd-esque psychedelic rock, surreal electronica influences, and the overall experimentalism on may not make this a groundbreaking record, but it definitely makes for a pretty amazing and especially distinct album.

Crayon Soul would certainly have been good had it only consisted of fluffy indie pop numbers, just like a ton of other poppy indie bands. But what’s the fun in that?

Rating: A-

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© 2016 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Big Picnic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.