Midweek Mic Drop | Myles Bullen, Swami (((John))) Reis


Throughout the years’ John Reis has seen some shit. His claim to fame began on the upswing with the San Diego sextet Rocket From The Crypt and the band’s infamous 1992 album Circa: Now! The album was a frenetic introduction to the band filled with crunchy riffing, horns, and crazed live energy. The band had a great run with six albums, but Reis also worked concurrently with the Drive Like Jehu troupe, releasing two albums before the door was shut on that project. From then on, he’s worked no a number of projects but most notably on the post-hardcore noise outfit Hot Snakes, with fellow DLJ guitarist Rick Froberg. Sorry, this isn’t a history lesson and I’m not writing a book report.

Now, Swami (((John))) Reis returns with a new project and as well as a proper solo album in Ride The Wild Night (Swami Records). The album is what you may expect from Reis, and also what you may not expect as well. We have the prerequisite punchy kick of songs like “Do You Still Wanna Make Out_” which may make some of your grandparents feel like them damn kids are riding their Triumph motorcycles on their grass, while also letting your parents feel like they’re alive again. Reis’ gruff vocal tough guy exterior allows listeners to follow suit. Well, at least me anyway. The guitar are hypnotic, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. “When I Kicked Him In The Face,” throws you for a loop, building instruments around an acoustic guitar and it’s just magnificent. This is where we expect the unexpected. The acoustic gets lost in the mix after that but why should you care? Just rock with it. The distant harmonies he delivers here are great as that acoustic guitar makes a resurgence and you can find it once again. Damn!

Reis is a clever songwriter, masking his pop sensibilities around noisy instruments like on “Days Of Auld Lang Syne.” It’s a pretty straightforward movement here – verse, chorus, verse – but his delivery is the catalyst. More of the unexpected comes in the form of “I Hate My Neighbors In the Yellow House,” which opens much like an 80s electro-pop tune that morphs into a monstrous track where guttural guitars swallow everything whole.

Wasn’t sure what to expect with Ride The Wild Night but one thing is certain, Swami (((John))) Reis is back! Then again, to be honest, he’s never gone anywhere. All of ya’ll have missed the boat. But get back in and grab a paddle. You won’t regret it.

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It seems the young songwriter/rapper/musician Myles Bullen is a protégé of Ceschi Ramos, although I’m sure no one’s ever thought of things in that way. The past few years have seen the release of albums on his own, while constantly performing, touring, and literally building. I’ve never listened to Myles Bullen’s music from beginning to end  – here and there maybe – but he recently released Mourning Travels (Fake Four, Inc.), and things change.

From the start, “Hypothermic Anvil” softly builds in momentum and volume as Bullen waxes poetic. Here, we find early on he’s an optimist but as time passes, the pessimist within shows up. It’s airiness, it’s atmospheric almost as Bullen’s voice shifts from soft-spoken to powerfully commanding. It’s a strong start and will force everyone to pay full attention. “I’m No Meteorologist” opens with childlike ambiguity as plinking keyboard notes direct the track. He let’s you know, yes, he’s still here. There are changes, friends have come and gone, but yes, he’s still here.  It continues with “Still Be Friends,” much friendlier as Bullen’s acoustic guitar melody remains infectious and memorable.

The young squire is able to move seamlessly, playing musical chairs with genres, and ability to move within a number of them without being held complicit to just one. “Memories (feat. Jesse the Tree);” sweet and subtle where both artists mesh their own styles with one another, as Jesse’s deeper voice offsets Bullen’s. It’s moving and cataclysmic. Bullen has a way with words measuring them seamlessly through the musical composition here. It’s fascinating. With “Ordinary Magic (feat. billy woods),” he moves in the same manner as the track preceding it. It evokes emotion, a search for something more here as the guitar is accentuated by a lazy beat making its way across. When Bullen shouts “You play rapper for the weekend/I spend a thousand lifetimes in silence till this art started speaking,” we can understand who he’s referring to but “art started speaking,” could easily be tangled in when his “heart started speaking.” billy woods, well, billy does what billy does best, turning this magic into anything other than ordinary.

There seems to be a heavy dose of childlike abandon throughout Mourning Travels, like with the one-minute excursion “Idontwannadotoomuch,” where the lo-fi recording of Bullen’s voice over piano captures the innocence of his words. We may think Daniel Johnston but with much more coherence. There’s more of that on “Somewhere Else” as Bullen’s voice is carried along by the melody of a ukulele(?) sprinkled with keyboard notes. It’s sweet and endearing and all too brief. When he says, “The hardest lesson is to learn to love yourself,” it rings true, forcing listeners to look inward.

It’s on “Roses & Rain (feat. Hannah Harleen)” where everything comes to a head. Bullen’s R&B backdrop is the hit the mainstream was never offered, but that’s fine because here, this is the culmination of gritty reality swallowed within melancholia. Harleen’s sweet voice, aligned with Bullen’s, is the perfect storm but it’s the way Bullen punctuates his words when quoting A. A. Milne is different and original. The music composed here, along with Bullen’s direct yet heartfelt lyricism, is magical. But that same childlike innocence he offered earlier permeates through, “IDK (Feat. Sarah Violette),” as he offers what could be a Vince Guaraldi track if was born of this generation and grew up on Hip-Hop & Indie Rock. The looped piano chords & notes give off aged maturity while lyrically Bullen & Violette specifically wonder how life works, never questioning but reflect on the nuances surrounding the widgets & cogs throughout it.

One thing is certain about Mourning Travels, and it’s that it isn’t easily digested after one listen. There are many facets to Myles Bullen but his compositions on this album play like therapy, that much is evident, and yet, not so obvious at times. On the final musical number, “Small Creature (feat. Emma Ivy),” the improvisation of the track lays waste to the notion you have to be just one thing as he sits with his guitar and Ivy backs him here. At five and a half minutes long, they’re having fun. Yes, Mourning Travels is a somber affair but it’s also clever in the way it’s presented. Myles Bullen may not always give us what we want but with this album, he gives us what we need.

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