Album review: Adeem the Artist, The Owl EP

Fiery local folkster explores struggles of youth on first of Birds EP series

Album artwork by Hannah Bingham

If there is one defining artistic characteristic of explosive local folk songwriter Adeem the Artist, it’s a willingness to embrace cognitive dissonance, change, and uncomfortable topics –all the things most folks usually spend all their time trying to shy away from.

He did it in his early works back in Syracuse, New York, as an alternative Christian folk singer exploring the plights of biblical characters and modern humans struggling with the concept of grace; mining heartbreak from some early lost loves and honing a rapier-sharp vocabulary and wit that instantly pierce through a listener’s folk fatigue and musical malaise to break the skin, drawing blood and attention, offering pure intellectual energy in return for rapt listener engagement.

He did it again last year on Kyle Adem is Dead, roasting the corpse of his past performance identity and faith, wrestling with his hang-ups and contradictions, and finally freeing himself to resurrect in the fiery, whimsical, joyfully anarchic manic depressive art-folk phoenix that is his current persona Adeem the Artist.

Right after Election Day, at a local house concert, Adeem debuted with the aggressively angry, punk-tinged protest single “5th Avenue Homicide,” featuring a bleak, war-torn future he was imagining the new President might lead America–and the world– into. The chorus kept beginning with “bursting bombs/And limp, __bodies,” filling in the blanks with various marginalized groups, fearing their demise in the new world order. He minced no words and pulled no punches and was rewarded with a trip to the Elite 8 of the Knoxville Music Warehouse March Radness tournament for Best Knoxville Song of 2016.

This year Adeem embarks on a new structural-release method and writing-style odyssey: a collection of linked-narrative concept EPs called The Birds, which he successfully crowd-funded on Kickstarter in the fall.

Adeem says this first series EP released, The Owl, is about “a pair of empaths that turn to substances as medicine for their aching souls.” Throughout the four-song collection, he captures the exquisite, delicious drama of being young, overwhelmed, in love and under the influence. His PCP-addled protagonists lay around in “Imagining We Are Infinite” doing exactly that, and playfully, Adeem repeats the title phrase ad nauseum towards the end to drive home the point.

A heavy audio rain/thunderstorm track motif reappears throughout the songs, giving them a mood at once drowsy and pensive, another nod to the deceptively lazy, hazy life of youth submerged in substance and melodrama—one that is always a breath away from intensity and drama.

The EP also features the characters interacting with Dead Kennedys music and lyrics, a nice meta device that begins to explore a theme Adeem says the whole Birds EP series will tackle: what music means to the personal narratives people build around themselves to make meaning of their lives.

Adeem habitually references his own moniker as “pretentious” on stage when introducing himself in local venues, but ‘The Artist’ is an apt title for a man who goes the extra mile to constantly evolve, challenge himself and his listeners, and make art of life.

The Owl is out now on www.Adeemtheartist.com.

Must-listen tracks

(Adeem in general): “Midway Motel,” “Canvas to the Frame,” “Good Ship Jesus”

On The Owl: “Apocalypse,” “Imagining We Are Infinite”

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