With brooding low notes comparable to the likes of Barry White, and a sound that seamlessly blends distorted guitar, 80s-era synth pop, and hip hop beats, Marcus Brown (stage name: Riley with Fire) blurs the line between rap, rock, and avant-garde. His most recent EP, titled More Imagination, is a collection of five of his favorite songs that the Baltimore-based artist wrote this past summer.
The first track off the album, “Hallucination Station,” is perfect when you’re paralyzed in your friends garage from a few too many puffs, or a great song to meditate on alone in your room after your girlfriend/boyfriend inevitably breaks your heart. The song serves as a blueprint into Brown’s mind, one which he describes on Bandcamp as, “overthinking to the point of not seeing life clearly.” Delicate synth tracks placed over a hard hip hop beat, and a rumbling bass all contrast each other and run around a listener’s head placing them in the same hallucinatory state Brown mentions in the song, while a repeating violin track guides the listener back to Earth. Brown’s personal favorite track, “HATE!” contains background ad libs and ambient guitar that are reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s newest album Blonde.
Relatable lyrics like, “you’re too much like me and it’s making me hate you,” add further to the song’s likability. It brings the vibe of a twenty-something filled with angst and self doubt; someone who hates who they are, so they could never love someone who reminds them of themselves.
Two covers are also included on the album: “Basketball Jones,” originally by Barry White and Chris Rock, and “Superstar,” originally by the Carpenters. Both add Brown’s signature ambient guitar and moody synth symphonies to the tracks. “Basketball Jones,” discovered by Brown while watching Space Jam, is especially memorable. This 90s hip hop beat and disco guitar will make any listener want to hit the dance floor in their tightest pants and biggest hair. Brown also shows off his impressive range with rich bass vocals which pay homage to the late Barry White, and a dreamy falsetto that soars over the top of the track like an echo from 90s R&B.
Although Brown’s sound is reminiscent of past artists and sounds, he is definitely bringing something new to the scene — the electro pop/rock twist on hip-hop is a unique sound all his own. If this EP has you begging for more, Riley with Fire’s sophomore album will be out sometime later this year. Jam out or lay down contemplatively with the Bandcamp link below in the meantime, and be sure to check out Riley with Fire’s debut album APPLEHEAD.
Article by Peter Soucy