When BIG Something arrived on the scene back in 2009, their name made it apparent they knew what the future had in store for them. Fast forward eight years later and the funky, electronic, alternative rockers have gone nowhere but up, managing to keep climbing the ladder of fame. Continuously bringing the high-energy jams to east coast music festivals, the group crafted their own annual fest in Mebane, North Carolina: The Big What. After three studio albums, the six-piece hailing from NC decided 2017 was the year to put forth their newest endeavor titled Tumbleweed, the namesake of their December 2016 teaser single. If Tumbleweed is any accurate indication, 2017 is already shaping up to be huge for them.
In anticipation of their then-impending album, the group decided to launch “Tumbleweed,” paired with a quite jarring narrative, giving fans a spoonful of what was to come in the following weeks. The name “Tumbleweed” references the main character of the track who finds himself endlessly wandering through the depths of a post-apocalyptic desert. If that’s not enough of a concept, he’s hallucinating on peyote, too–quite a trip. The album’s narrative is centered on his lonesome and dark destination and his will to survive and keep movin’ on.
Released on February 24, 2017 and recorded at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, NC, the album blew into the speakers of many, proving to be an apt addition to their album lineup: 2010’s Stories From the Middle of Nowhere, 2013’s self titled venture and their penultimate release in 2014, Truth Serum, in addition to a number of live releases. The 8-track album covers a lot of ground, taking a step away from the group’s more lighthearted, carefree and fun tone, bringing it down to a darker realm of sonic trips through barren desserts. Of course, some tracks held true to an upbeat feel but for this runaround, the group decided they’d convey a heavier temperament while flying through a variety of genres.
The title track, acting as the first glimpse of the album produced by Grammy-nominated John Custer, leaves listeners feeling as if they’re the ones left deserted on the cracked earth beneath a heavily beating sun. The opening notes alone spark an instant curiosity and yearning to hear more. The lyrics, “Cactus tripping/eclipse the sun/mind or mirage/are you having fun?”and synthy keys conjure up psychedelic inspiration and provoke deep thought with airy guitar solos to match.
This is quickly juxtaposed by “Song for Us,” the second track on the album. Desolate emotions are exchanged for happier, reggae tunes solidifying the fact that the listener is on their own unique journey through Tumbleweed, one they must come out of in their own way, as they bounce between lighter and darker moods. Allowing an ending guitar solo to smoothly transition into “Passenger,” the track begins to grab at bluegrassy (think String Cheese Incident), western influences and spirals further into the theme of wandering in darkness.
“Blue Dream” follows, introducing a jammier, space rock sound to the album that has yet to be seen. Regardless of being instrumental in its entirety, the track demands your attention. Contributing to the southern rock theme and tying in psychedelia, this track mirrors the album artwork nicely, which displays major sci-fi nods with images of UFOs and alien life. “UFOs are Real” brings a bit of kitschy lyrical fun with groovy bass lines, an added horn section and a quick ability to force you on your feet to dance. The penultimate track, ironically titled “In the Middle,” brings some Californian vibes with surfer rock mentality through its vocals. Wrapping up the 2017 release, “Waves” proves to be a fitting closing track, offering a powerhouse of a crescendo that softens into reminiscent tunes from the album’s opening track. Listeners are seemingly looped and dropped off at the beginning of their own desert trip, left to reflect on the highs and lows the last eight songs challenged them with.
Tumbleweed is a gripping, innovative release chock-full of imagery, creative instrumentation and solid production, which gave Nick MacDaniels (vocals, guitar), Doug Marshall (bass), Josh Kagel(keys, trumpet), Casey Cranford (saxophone, EWI), Jesse Hensle (lead guitar), and Ben Vinograd (drums) the opportunity to shine in their respective areas and display their utmost dynamism, both in the studio and on stage. Although unmistakably dark, the album grounds the listener and helps them come to terms with the fact that we are all just tiny ants on this humongous globe in space, dragging ourselves through the scorched earth beneath our feet. It’s up to us to keep going.
Key tracks: Tumbleweed, Blue Dream, Waves