Album Review: ‘Red Flags’ by Nonbeliever

Album Review: ‘Red Flags’ by Nonbeliever

Adriana SaboSaturday,24 January 2015

Nonbeliever is one of those artists who came to be due to development of home recording software. Thanks to the fact that now anyone –that is, anyone who has access to the internet and modern technology–can buy simple software and easily learn to use it, DIY culture developed rapidly and gave birth to many “stay-at-home artists.” This relatively new way of making music also meant that more and more indie bands and artists got the chance to try their luck out. You don’t need to pay for a studio or a professional producer, you can do everything from home. But on the other hand, it might be harder to find a record label due to the overcrowding of the market. This is why most of the albums made in someone’s living room reveal a unique balance between the commercial and experimental aspects of music. Observed from this point of view, Nonbeliever’s latest release sheds an interesting light on questions of mainstream and underground, indie music, alternative music, pop music and their complicated relations.

Nonbeliever is in fact Stephen Fairbanks, an artist based in Manchester, England, who makes some quite inspiring lo-fi indie and/or alternative music. His debut release that came out in June 2014, was titled EBB (it was, in fact a mini EP, comprised out of only three tracks), while his second album–first full-scale one–was titled Red Flags and saw the light of a virtual day last November. In other words, we are talking here about a young musician who only just set foot on the road to success. “Red Flags was created entirely of Stephen’s living room – from initial ideas laid out on guitar, to recording, production, mixing and mastering (…) it was an attempt to try out different musical variations whilst pushing my perceived limitations as a singer / songwriter / producer; – drawing from 30 years of life and music consumption,” says Fairbanks on his website.

In other words, the album introduces many different genres that are mixed together on a harmonious way, making music that is really friendly to the ear. The base of every song is divided between the voice and the acoustic guitar, and is enriched by the sound of synths and synthetically-generated bass and drums. Thus, Nonbeliever makes some high quality pop music that occasionally moves to spaces of meditation and sound experiments. In this sense I understand Red Flags: the album represents Fairbanks’ search for his own sound and an exploration of possibilities offered by his home recording computer software. This does not mean that his music is unfinished. On the contrary, there are many different atmospheres introduced in this 12 track album. One thing they all have in common is the prominent role guitar has in creating the musical flow. “Sleeper (Won’t Leave Me Alone)” is a slow track, comprised of voice, guitar and different electronic noises. “He found a gun” and “Honesty” move closer to the sphere of pop, while “Doppelganger,” with its electric guitar, introduces some classic rock’n’roll. Every track emphasizes some of the musical genres close to Nonbeliever and each one unmistakably belongs to Red Flags, with Fairbanks’ voice–his specific color, tone of singing as well as the echo or reverb added to it–being the strongest uniting force.

To say that Red Flags is and album that represents the search of Nonbeliever’s unique sound is definitely meant as a compliment. I’m excited to see which part of his creative being will prevail, or if he will stay true to the wish to be eclectic and always open to new influences.

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