Local DIY heroes FUSE release their most smooth-sounding and innovative album to date, The Impossible Dream, an uplifting community-funded project oozing with reality-driven inter-cultural inspiration and creativity. Shown above, members of he band, left to right, X - Guitar; Mr. Pokkett - Drums; Silent Knight - Mic; K-Dez - Vocals; Soul Qloc - MPC, mic; Toast - Bass; Ith - Keys.
On the 11-track Impossible Dream LP, the third offering from The Band Called Fuse (FUSE), the group has elevated its funkmetal-soulrock game to yet another level. The ever-grinding independent group, which has performed over 200 shows in the last 4 years, has ever-so-smoothly hit its stride both musically and conceptually.
The soulful, dance-able, headbanging effort has a polished feel and a "tightness" that fans ("fam") familiar with the band will recognize as a signature of their live performances. While some of the credit for the crispness of this album goes to Nicholas Howard (who mixed it) and KON (who mastered the album), the band's well-known dedication to the grind shows in the cohesiveness of the effort.
"A deepened consciousness of their situation
leads people to apprehend that
situation as an historical reality
susceptible of transformation."
Pedagogia do oprimido (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
(1968, English trans. 1970)
Both musically and in content, the band smoothly covers a world of terrain: from the light-hearted ("Are we there yet?." "NOLA") and the consequential ("soul rock anthem?," "Can I?", "Black Canyon City Blues", "Lost Steps") to personal moments ( "Take it slow", "Last Call") and modern meta-alienation("Ellipsis").
Left to Right: Silent Knight, Soul Qloc and KDez of the NY-NJ soul rock supergroup FUSE (The Band Called Fuse). Photo via facebook.com/FusePlanet)
The Impossible Dream is the band's smoothest-yet blend of hip hop, soul, grunge, metal and rebellious DIY alt-scene influences into what will probably end up being one of the most thoughtful, creative and subversively inspiring albums of 2014. With KDEz on vocals, Soul Qloc on the mic/MPC and Sunset Park-raised Silent Knight emceeing, the group's strength in diversity is displayed in a uniquely rugged and creative sound.
Over the past few years, the band has gained recognition from the college charts (where they made the top 40 several times last year) to the local scene, not only sharing bills with bigger names like Pharoah Monch and Talib Kweli but also becoming one of the most recognized mainstays in the independent music scene.
While the band has indeed achieved a new level of recognition, it's in this third album's funky, mosh-able fusion of musical styles, lived experience and shared creativity that they've entered an explosive new artistic domain.
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?" -- David Foster Wallace
"Soul Rock Anthem", the first track on the album, is a politically-aware peer-to-peer (zero-supremacism) hype song, which excels at not only encouraging and uplifting the "fam," but, like the rest of the album, also does so without the predictable pop-mainstream idiocy of wealth-flaunting, poor-shaming, sexism, imperious violence and, quite importantly,--without alienating the audience from either themselves, their own experience or the music that is itself a re-imagination of lived experience, hope and the uncertain terrain in between.
Moreover, the song, like many on the album, repeatedly hints at the notion of an individual's growth being strengthened and supported by the growth of other individuals within the community, as well as the growth of the community itself.
X of The Band Called Fuse (FUSE) takes off during a performance. (Photo: Mike Shanahan)
Repeatedly again, as if in insistent confirmation, "Soul Rock Anthem" also accentuates that failure is not a dead-end point on "the journey" ("building together, we're gonna rise.... when we get knocked down, we get back up, and then we take another shot") as much as it's just another opportunity to re-organize, a rare message within a rare message.
The pattern carries on throughout the album, even on distinctly non-political tracks. For example, the album's three love-related tracks (Last Call, Take it Slow, Nola) explore three very different stages of romantic relationships, and does so in different styles. In all of these songs, both the object and subject of the song are treated with either overt or implicit respect--something so humane it sticks out in its rarity.
"Last Call," for example, is the goodbye of a drifting couple that probably started out as friends. Mature, insightful, and painfully well-balanced, the song is an admission that despite even best efforts, a couple that loves and respects each other may still end up apart.
In one of those many subversive subtleties peppered throughout the album, the song's realization doesn't denigrate the ex-partner nor does it belittle what the couple had once shared. In fact, the dissolution of the relationship marks what was valuable in a respectful goodbye.
This is a world away from top 40 break up songs that condemn, dehumanize or, inversely, canonize and sanctify former partners in either an attempt to denigrate shared experiences as meaningless or hype them into too important to give up. (Both of the latter, corporate "love song" styles are intimately related to an often-used model of oligopoly-industry music that focuses on market-ready emotional self-centeredness as opposed to artistic merit, historic relevance or intellectual edification of one's self or others.)
On "Take it Slow" a new couple has become enamored of each other, drawing together physically, emotionally and intellectually. But as the song title indicates, the theme doesn't focus on the new partner as a sexual product to be consumed and/or bribed, but instead hints at a sustainable coming together in the romantic partnership as the K-Dez-belted hook ends with the punchline "let's get carried away.... almost."
On "NOLA" Qloc and SK play the dueling emcee role, this time in the context of a late-night bar scene. As they rap their purposely-cheesy lines ("I know you got a lot shakers and movers, but I can take you to Hooters" and "Not to be rude but, those jeans fit so smooth just like a new glove"), the band's mastery of a Motown-ish funkrock sound is on full display.
In response to the rapping duelers, whose insults on each other go from occasional to hilariously punchy, blaring soulful horns accompany K-Dez's ever-so-clear response, "Hey now baby, that's not gonna do. If you want me, to lose control, you've got to rock me, way deep down in my soul." The cheesy fedora-wearing bar-hounds eventually decide "hey man, I don't think she's feeling either of us, let's head over to the bar and just grab a beer and such."
"I wanna feel........like something is real"
-- KDez, on "Can I"
And so even in the fun songs, FUSE has found a way to talk about life, real life (sometimes full of win, sometimes full of fail), even the awkwardness of finding a romantic partner, with humor, candor, depth and a ton of rhythm.
In honestly addressing reality (sometimes silly, sometimes tense, sometimes inspiring, sometimes dull) as experienced by the community they emerged from, a community that in reciprocation directly-funded a great deal of FUSE's efforts, they not only bolster the self-confidence of those inter-cultural grassroots communities, but also lend validity to their struggles, history, social environment and even "dreams."
That detonative power of "the Real" re-imagined and reconsidered in the hands of a community's honest representative is exactly what we should expect from art. (It is also precisely what corporate media cannot, and will never, provide us.)
Another one of the album's funnest songs "Fat Laces" gives us insight into the musical family history of the band. One of the funkier songs on the album, the song is a shout-out to the band's roots, both in their personal journeys and in their musical influences. It also hints at the structural framework that bolsters the group (which, in a process of increasing reinforcement, the group bolsters and evolves back in return).
The band, in both musical self-reflection and lyrical composition, has now decidedly placed itself in a live history of intercultural, revolutionary experimentation. The populist musical, community traditions of yesteryear are re-applied with a far more comprehensive, global perspective in an effort that's remarkably accessible, unforced and roots deep in the gritty world it originates from and into.
"In problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation."-- Paulo Freire,
Pedagogia do oprimido (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
(1968, English trans. 1970)
Those roots are hinted at again, and even more clearly, on "Lost Steps," which often seems to be stressing the connection between past, present and future--and also the deep, abiding relationship between the band and its community.
The fan letters are piling up, half of them are what we write to them
the other half is what they write to us
I'm callin em fam better
soul rockas and rebels
getting ready for the best but preparing for bad weather
that's what fam does
we on this path together
not moving backwards
but what's a human who can't remember? --SK "Lost Steps"
Out with the Old, In with the New
Neh Forget Classic Tunes
'Riginal Rock, Pave the Way
Open doors Lead the Way
Rhythm Blues Gospel Jazz
Country Soul Frame that Past -- Soul Qloc "Lost Steps"
Out with the old
In with the new
Back to the old
Cause you missed a thing or two --KDez "Lost Steps"
This vision of diversity-based shared experience, shared learning, shared creativity and shared aspirations is one that regularly serves as an engine, subject and starting point for the various, inter-connected explorations of daily life that FUSE engages.
Yet it's in the last two songs that the tonality that is hinted at throughout the album, the individual struggling with both alienation and hopelessness finding both a meditative forum and a wealth of power in shared struggle, reaches its clearest statement.
Ellipsis, the next to last song, is more of a landscape than a song for the first half of the track. A grungy, post-industrial, post-urban sound slowly fills out as several haunting harmonies of "there is no one here.... far away from here.... " creep in from multiple vocalists.
FUSE at one of the high-energy performances the group is so wellknown for. (Photo: Mike Shanahan)
When the lyrics do start in, they basically give up on getting out the first time around, bringing the eerie, chilling effort to a more distant, alienating plea, "I wanna live forever.... can you grant my wish?...."
When they start in again, an image of a world abandoned emerges, "the planet exists... amongst the slumber... cannibalism, hunger, abandonment.. dreams can't exist here, or so it seems.... it's just an impossible dream... that's what they tell me.... it's an impossible dream... that's what they tell me... it's an impossible dream... that's what I tell myself, that's what I tell myself, that's what I tell myself...."
The confused, near feverish loneliness of the song gets tenser as the lyrics wind around and eventually stop along with an intently hopeless musical half-ending.
"People will be truly critical... if their action
encompasses a critical reflection which increasingly
organizes their thinking and thus leads them to
move from a purely naive knowledge of
reality to a higher level, one which
enables them to perceive the causes of reality."
-- Paulo Freire
Pedagogia do oprimido (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
(1968, English trans. 1970)
The next sound is the blaring of a morning alarm--a distinct reference to The Impossible Dream referenced throughout the album but especially throughout "ellipsis"--and follows with these words,
Can I get one more hour of sleep?
Can I get a couple more days in a week?
Can I get a raise if I ask for it?
Can I get some napkins with that?
More stamps in my passport?
Can I get a landlord that respects me?
Better yet, Can I own my home eventually?
Until then, can I get some cheap rent?
Can I vent?
Can I get a screenshot for that snapchat?
Can I get a retweet Or a followback?
Can I hit the lotto jackpot, what's the chance?
Can I get some piece of mind on top of that?
Can We get the troops back home in tact?
Can the collections dude cut me some slack?
.....I know my high school diploma's not a factor
When I hear some folks sayin they only got a masters
Some of the members of FUSE at their "compound."
Damn...I just want some clarity
Can i get that?
That sound fair at least?
And Can I get a decent wage
or am I going to college just to receive a piece of paper?
Can I get it straight?
Cuz that's a lot to pay In this economic state
Can i get explanation? Oh, not today?
I guess i'll grab another box of
Ramen n be on my way
And when i'm walking can i get to where i'm going?
Without randomly chosen,
Patdowns on my scrotum?!
Bag searched n thrown is that foul? dunno,
U wanna sprinkle some crack or put [crack] viles in my coat?
If i act wild-i'm ghost i don't pack man,
I'm a law abiding citizen tryna be left alone....
Can i get my own drone?
They tapping MY phone
Can i see what the goverments doing up in THEY homes?
Can I kick it?
Yes you can!
I think they need to step up they entrance exams
I think we need to revup the rest of the plan
If you think we need a better chance....
Can I get an Amennnn?!
Much like the rest of the album, the lyrics bring the concrete into the abstract, the immediate into the historic, the mundane into the global, and plays with the connections that exist between those planes. The questions of "ellipsis" are in fact resolved, as an almost-challenge to the audience, on "Can I?". It's on this final track that it becomes obvious the band is not just generating out of the experiences of their community, but also drilling down into the forces affecting that community.
Can I get a what what
For the pretentious stuck up
People who gave up their dreams, n now they judge us
N don't think much of our generation
lazy n complacent
And other generalizations
Basically ADD and Apathetic,
well the young people, they're like me....they asking questions
Like Who fought 3 wars in the past decade?
And hit the booths heavy in the blue AND red states
Who inherited this debt n this climate?
How u measure success?
and not internalize it?
I'm not a fan of the blame game of finger pointing
There's a gap there that's mad real, I think its poignant
Can we get to the root n not avoid it?
Cuz when's it's after the fact it can't be voided
But we got choices
Red pill or the blue
accept it or improve
Deception or the truth
The hook, "I wanna feel, like something is real," gives the song a stirring, demanding overtone--one that asks something of reality--something more. And that may in fact be the message that drives the album. The Impossible Dream, it seems, would ask us to challenge which dreams are ours, study the dreams we share and question which dreams are in fact not that impossible after all.
You can check out the EP, a 5 song version of the album, over at DJBooth.