Knoxville Review: Adeem the Artist – ‘The Flamingo’

Fiery folk songwriter explores heartbreak on second of three planned EPs

 

painting by Hannah Bingham

“The Flamingo,” the second installment of “The Birds,” a trilogy of EPs by Knoxville singer-songwriter Adeem Bingham aka Adeem the Artist, is available for streaming  at www.adeemtheartist.com/theflamingo. Thematically, the trio of short albums is loosely based around songs/bands named after the feathery creatures that the protagonists of these tracks might listen to, but all three are linked by the characters’ continuously developing storylines.

Speaking with Bingham about the second EP, it became apparent that its central arc is a spinoff story concerning Jenny (the friend of the two young lovers introduced on “The Owl”) and the dissolution of her parents’ relationship. As it turns out, she will be the one recurring character linking all storylines throughout the trilogy. While this piece of information isn’t shared or evident in the lyrics, it does provide for some interesting context.

Even without this understanding, these songs are just as rich when one’s own thoughts are projected onto them; the first several listens to “The Flamingo” without knowing its backstory yielded totally different interpretations about life – both in general and as a young artist/working class stiff/person in a relationship. More abstract and universally relatable themes present themselves when the EP is approached from this perspective.

And while some of the more elaborate, speculative, insider conversations with Bingham may have revealed what his true intentions for these characters – the headspace they occupy, their literal, physical location where they are in specific situations and other incidental intricacies – were, he doesn’t stress about sharing particulars with his listeners.

The first song on the EP, “Cannibals,” begins with the same heavy rainstorm motif that persisted throughout “The Owl.” Bingham whisper-sings over a plaintive piano melody and sustained distorted chords, encouraging the listener to “find your way among the cannibals.” A departure from that last record, though, is that here there is an ethereal, melancholic pace free of a driving acoustic guitar rhythm, aggressively dark passion or Bingham’s signature tongue-in-cheek wordplay.

In fact, this initial track seems to find him drifting through a wasteland of apathy and emptiness, halfheartedly mumbling the “bum-bum-bums” in the choruses. “Wander back inside the house you halfway own/Slip inside the sheets,” he whispers towards the end of the song. He even sighs audibly as cascading guitars chime as it builds going into the bridge. The entire track is very evocative of young working-class and creative/bohemian folks feeling completely spaced out and drained from being and overworked in a bewildering, chaotic world.

The creator of the piece himself is one of these folks. Aside from being a workhorse songwriter, he performs a day job starting early in the morning before hitting an ever-widening circle of bars and restaurants all over town and across the region multiple nights a week. He also is active in planning, promoting and fulfilling multiple creative Kickstarter projects such as “Love Notes,” a children’s book he wrote with his wife, Hannah. (Incidentally, Hannah, a local painter, is responsible for the gorgeous cover art that graces the first two EPs).

Given the many pursuits he has taken under his wing, it’s easy to imagine Bingham as the exhausted protagonist character – stumbling around on autopilot through the life he’s built – to whom his narrator talks on these songs. But at the end, even if there is some sarcasm in the louder “bum bum bums,” at least he injects some energy back into them. So if the artist indeed feels angst in his life, perhaps at least the anxiety transforms into a more useful and compelling form from time to time.

Everybody has those days. But the great Adeem the Artist is a lover, an artist and an entertainer. He has songs to sing, places to be and a woman to love; what he doesn’t have is time to mope around. On “Happily Ever After,” he instantly changes pace to unfurl a hook-laden, poppy love song, that aforementioned sparkling personality and bouncy rhythm coming across in that moment with perfect excitement and sincerity.

On “Stars,” Bingham keeps the same kind of pace and pep, but the mood begins to sour again; he digs into domestic anxiety, paranoia about the neighbors, his own wife’s affection for him and other issues he could be working through when he’s high on “pills and self-depreciation.” He steps outside at one point and asks, “Are the stars out tonight?/Because I’m dying underneath them.” It’s a song that superbly encapsulates the whole manic/paranoiac/anxiety disorder spectrum and how it can affect an otherwise normal evening, relationship, life, etc.

“Anything But You” feels like a renewing-of-vows type song, but not in an icky, insincere, somebody-cheated-or-owes-somebody, out-of-the-doghouse kind of way. More like: how couples change over time, become different people and as a result become different types of couples. And how, over the years, they have to keep checking in with each other and recommitting to that original idea in a new version but with the original intent. And how they genuinely struggle through, even with real intent, they still seem to be doomed. These folks may be trying to do everything right by the playbook, but too many things have gone wrong, and it doesn’t seem to be in the cards for them.

It’s hard to say this as somewhat of a purist when it comes to live instrumentation, but on this song Bingham displays a strong command of programming skills. The computerized drums provide gentle, precise backing, and well-written synth parts imbue the track with an emotional impact and integrate well with the acoustic guitars. In general, it must be said that Bingham is continuing to grow not only as a lyrical storyteller in linking all of these stories, but as a producer and as a musician, as well, as he continues to evolve his sound by layering guitars, doing his own mixing and doing all the things necessary to create atmosphere in a composition.

“The Way She Smiles” is the most specifically linked, it seems now, to the storyline Bingham shared. Jenny, as the daughter the couple had made, is the one good and beautiful thing they had created, and that kind of makes it all worthwhile to him. He says he imagines that maybe they are in France or something later on as she is grown up into a beautiful young woman and he has gotten used to being apart from his wife but finds some tenderness and love again through the love he feels for his daughter. It cuts off sharply and quickly back into the rain motif, however, as if the dinner meetup ended too soon and the father had to go back out into the cold and loneliness.

Listen to the album at www.adeemtheartist.com/theflamingo.

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