Like a human pulse, an electronic beat welcomes us into the dark grind of “Stick Shift,” the new single from melodic experimentalist Reed Stewart. The percussion is scattered, jazz-inspired, and not unlike the discordant swing that one would find in a purely avant-garde release, but it’s adorned with a lush vocal that keeps it tethered to the familiar just enough to make this track accessible to the masses just as much as it is the underground aficionado. Growing like cerebral weeds, a chaotic set of keys finds its way into the mix around the halfway point of the song, and saturates the central hook with an eccentric texture that only adds to the evocative nature of the carefully constructed arrangement. Instrumentally, “Stick Shift” is about as out-there as they come, and its lyrics are just as enigmatic in style and structure, but there’s something to be said about this single’s understated emotion, which can be found in places typically ignored by mainstream artists.
“Stick Shift” gets more and more compositionally confusing as it drones on, but we never get the impression that the instrumental parts are being thrown together in some reckless, drug-fueled experimentation in refined audio; in fact, quite the contrary. Every subtle nuance in the bass, the percussion and the vocal track is defined exquisitely in the master mix, which in and of itself is as much of a contributor to the narrative of the song as any of the actual instruments are.
There’s a tension that we’re never able to escape from, and even in the couple of relief-providing moments of catharsis (as far and few in between as they come), we always feel as though there’s some menacing entity awaiting us around the many twists and turns that the track throws in our direction. Reed Stewart seems bent on getting both a physical and a mental reaction out of his listeners in this epically noisy ambient single, but I don’t know that I would go as far as to call him an outright noise musician. He’s got the experimental edge of Lou Reed, but an urbane respect for lyricism that ties his sound more to the contemporary than it does anything in the past.
The music that we’ve heard thus far in 2019 has given us a lot of food for thought across the sonic spectrum, and Reed Stewart’s “Stick Shift” is definitely one of the more intriguing listens that I’ve had the chance to experience in the last few months. It’s not stylized as to be everyone’s cup of tea, but that might be what makes it such a unique offering this spring. Stewart isn’t trying to be anyone but himself here, and in rejecting the norms of a jaded recording industry that has admittedly been missing a signature sound for nearly a decade, he’s carving out a very special spot for himself in the elite hierarchy of underground experimentalists. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with his work next, but if it’s anything like what he’s accomplished with “Stick Shift,” I’m fairly certain that I’m going to like what I hear.
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