Jonah Bromwich, something something…Jets…fool.
Let’s say you love music. All kinds of music. The Beatles, Radiohead, Dilla, Wu-Tang, Stereolab, Floyd, Flying Lotus. Real nerd shit, but it spans wide. Let’s say that you then start making music, in the mold of your influences. You have good taste, sure. But if you’re trying to follow the lead of more than ten or fifteen separate influences, your own voice is bound to be swallowed whole.
That was the case for Charlie Button, a producer from Albany who used to make music under the moniker Eb7#9 (E flat, seven sharp, nine), a terrible name which he’s since dropped for his own. A music nerd trapped in a glass case of excellent influences, he released a jazz-influenced beat tape last year called Dropped Science, which showed a fair amount of promise, but was simply too broad to digest. Button knew the sounds he loved, but, as of last year, he didn’t seem sure of what he wanted his own sound to be.
Which, of course, is standard. When you start making stuff, you do it in the same vein as those who inspired you to make stuff in the first place and at best, it’s a little messy. (At worst it’s either laughably derivative and redundant, or terrible, or mediocre.) Fast forward a year though, and Button has a new EP called Pilot and damned if those influences haven’t been pared down to something resembling a core sound. Kid A-era Radiohead is still there, along with the obvious lessons from the beat-making godfathers, but the sound is that of a young artist slowly coming into his own.
One of the things that helps differentiate Pilot from its predecessor is the lyrics. This is the first time Button has used his voice on a release and it’s a bold choice: he’s a disarmingly frank songwriter and avoid the amateur’s usual tendency to overwrite. The EP’s opener, “Pod,” includes the line: “Sometimes I feel like an alien, people make no fucking sense to me.” But rather than coming off as whiny, the line is disarming and human, complemented by a really pretty warm analogue section which makes great use of chimes and keys.
Button also has the innate understanding of song structure that comes from listening to an enormous variety of music. For all the little jazzy flourishes on “No Damn Mystery,” that make the song stand out, it’s really bolstered by a traditional almost bluesy pop song, with a lovesick chorus that communicates the simplicity and self-loathing that comes with being envious.
Button still has a bit of a problem figuring out where he belongs. He seems to be a beatmaker at heart — albeit one with the kind of pop sensibility that can be hard to shake. But the nice thing about making art is that you don’t have to decide—refinement is a natural process. And Button’s Pilot EP is just the next step for an artist who isn’t shedding his influences so much as he’s internalizing them, and giving us more of himself in the process.