Review Summary: Mike Bloom's debut is a solid if not spectacular addition to your indie-pop collection, and all indications are that he possesses the skill to deliver again in the future.
The modern indie scene has become something of a mess. We have hundreds, maybe even thousands, of noodling acoustic guitarists who seem to all sound exactly alike. Half the challenge nowadays is just finding a way to make yourself stand out amongst the sea of musicians all striving for the same thing. As artists continue to find new ways to accomplish this, the pool of available ideas seems to dwindle to the point where creating a concept that is worth running with is a daunting task within itself. For someone like Mike Bloom, the Los Angeles singer-songwriter and member of Julian Casablanca’s touring band, the challenge of getting noticed is just another real and very difficult aspect of life in the music industry. With his debut, King of Circles
, Bloom has created a work worthy of mention, even if it isn’t groundbreaking enough to call for immediate attention from fans across the entire genre.
His work is commendable primarily because his music sounds
so damn authentic. It is polished enough to sound great on record, but it still has something of a live sensation that makes it feel like you are sitting at the fireplace, listening and watching him perform through the glow of the jumping sparks and flames. This presence is accomplished mainly through the display of his acoustic skills at the forefront of the music. His talent on the guitar is undeniable, and he has a real knack for picking and strumming his way into a soothing rhythm. That is the highlight of this album, and thankfully, he doesn’t shy away from the challenge of impressing us with his technical prowess, twelve out of twelve songs. Album opener ‘Til It’s Over’ is a good example of what to expect from Bloom, as his expertly displayed and deceivingly complex acoustic picking creates an atmosphere while giving the bass and strings just enough room to shine. Sometimes, it is refreshing to hear an artist who doesn’t always have to compensate for a lack of raw skill. Mike Bloom was born with “it”, and even on his debut, he comes out firing on all cylinders.
Another enjoyable aspect of Bloom’s debut is his perfectly pitched vocals. Oftentimes in indie and folk music you find two brands of vocalists: ones who just let it fly and end up sounding scratchy, pitchy, and abrasive (although this can also be one of the most charming aspects of a work, provided the musical components are solid enough to make the “human” side endearing as opposed to irritating), and ones who sound so
polished that the music loses all of its authenticity. Bloom is closer to the latter, but he wisely avoids the common pitfalls of overproduction, just like he stays within his range and overall realm of ability. You don’t hear him belching out high pitched falsetto to try to sound like the next Justin Vernon; in general he just delivers a solid, mistake-free vocal performance that is completely natural and fits in with the simple, acoustic-driven music he creates. ‘Floataway Sinner’ is perhaps the best illustration of this, with a restrained tempo that allows his voice to take the spotlight. He certainly doesn’t disappoint, knowing when to whisper, when to preach, and when to turn it up a notch and really
make the listener take notice. This is what allows us to feel
what he is trying to convey with his words, especially when the emotions run so high that the lyrics don’t do it justice. As with his impressively consistent guitar work, Mike Bloom’s vocals are excellent throughout - and one would be hard-pressed to find any qualms with the way that he stands and delivers quality song after quality song.
If there is a criticism to be made with King of Circles
, it is that Bloom doesn’t really take advantage of the instrumental diversity at his disposal. The drumming and bass is sparse throughout, and other than the occasional string, he doesn’t really add anything of significance to the album’s sonic palette. As a result, a lot of the songs, while solid on their own, start to blend together as you make your way through the record. Thus, in a sense, Bloom is getting in his own way by taking songs that could all be more distinguishable and failing to add a little extra something to spice them up…a violin, maracas, a harp, a pan flute…anything
really. For the most part, each song relies on Bloom’s guitar and voice, which fine because he delivers at such a high level. However, unless he has an arsenal overflowing with fresh chords and melodies, he may need to expand his toolkit in the future to avoid becoming stagnant.
As a whole, King of Circles
is an exceptional debut from an artist that is definitely worth keeping an eye on. This album obviously isn’t the pinnacle of Bloom’s career, but since it is great in its own right, that just means we have even more to look forward to. Bloom has succeeded in separating himself from the pack, which, as we already know, can be half the battle. From here, he just needs to make sure that he doesn’t take any steps backwards. But judging from King of Circles
, it seems wise to bet that he’ll be just fine.