J. Robbins: Basilisk [Album Review]

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J. Robbins
Dischord Records [2024]

Album Overview: Basilisk is J. Robbins’ second solo album, following Un-Becoming, released in 2019. Recorded between 2021 and 2022 at his Baltimore-based studio, The Magpie Cage, Basilisk features eleven songs reflecting Robbins’ shift towards a more personal and portable songwriting style. The album incorporates elements of rock, punk, and electronic music, delivering a raw and intriguing mix of tracks. For longtime fans of Robbins, Basilisk will sound very familiar as its alternative rock undertone is very prominent.

Musical Style: Drawing from his extensive experience in bands like Jawbox and Burning Airlines, the musical style of Basilisk falls in line with its raw energy but stands out with its stripped-down approach. The album features driving rhythms, melodic guitar work, and emotive vocals, with Robbins also incorporating elements of electronic music inspired by his experimentation with abstract electronic sounds and film soundtracks.

Evolution of Sound: Basilisk represents a slight departure from Robbins’ earlier work with his bands and his first solo album, Un-Becoming. The album has more of a focus on capturing intense moments and live recordings, showcasing a more immediate and spontaneous sound. Robbins integrates electronic elements into the traditional rock framework, expanding his music resume while maintaining the emotional depth and intensity of his songwriting.

Artists with Similar Fire: Fans of Jawbox, Burning Airlines, and similar bands from the ’90s alternative rock scene will find familiarity in J. Robbins’ solo work. His solo energy and introspective lyricism will remind listeners of artists like Greg Graffin, Bob Mould, and Frank Black.

Pivotal Tracks: Among the standout tracks on Basilisk is “Last War,” a reflective and introspective piece inspired by Robbins’ readings on historical events and the contemporary state of the USA. Delving into the concept of generals always fighting the last war, Robbins vividly portrays uncertainty and fear in the face of societal turbulence. “Automaticity” kicks the record off with an electronic pulse reminiscent of Failure, adding to the album’s dynamic range. Another notable track, “Exquisite Corpse,” features a killer guitar solo by Chicago punk legend John Haggerty and explores surrealistic imagery and themes.

Lyrical Strength: Robbins’ lyrics on Basilisk are poignant and introspective, addressing themes of personal struggle, societal unrest, and existential reflection. His words are often layered with metaphor and imagery, inviting listeners to contemplate the deeper meaning behind each song. Robbins’ passionate delivery enhances the replay value of Basilisk, leaving a lasting impression on listeners.

Un-Becoming (2019)

Dischord Records | Bandcamp.

Thomas Wilde
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