Occasionally you come across someone that possesses talent and creativity which seems to stretch way beyond their years on this earth. One such individual is Portland’s Elihu Knowles. Knowles is a 21-year old composer, jazz drummer, and vocalist, but he carries the confidence of a seasoned artist. Someone that seems to have stepped into the role of a composer/player that’s been at this game for years.
Creating well-crafted, adventurous pop and soul that seems mingled and mixed with a touch of space dust, Knowles has created his debut as Aaron Space & His Terrestrial Underlings. The result is Fishland, which will be released on May 22nd with the excellent Moon Glyph Records. His debut is a mixture of soulful pop with touches of spaced-out eccentricities and experimental exploration. It’s the kind of debut that impresses and astounds.
There’s a lot going on in Elihu Knowles’ head, apparently. Fishland plays as sort of a strand of thoughts and emotions randomly connecting with soulful melodies and existential noise. But within the melodic chaos there are these exquisite pieces of jazz, pop, and soul. Something like “Zellerbach” comes across as this piece of musical magic pulled from the 40s, or the milky way. Knowles has a voice as smooth as silk, coming across like a young Rufus Wainwright or Jeff Buckley. Musically, strings and piano intermingle with electronics which give the vibe of Harry Connick, Jr being produced by Flying Lotus. It’s really quite stunning. “Slow(Fast)” opens with cut/paste noise(and possibly some bong hits) before slinking into this rhythmically entrancing piece of art. Knowles puts his voice front and center, turning in a beautifully dark vocal turn. His harmonies are reminiscent of doo-wop groups, but with sort of a stoner-soul slant.
Fishland goes back and forth between beautifully-produced vocal heavy soul/pop songs and funkier, dirtier spaced-out R&B. “Stome Soup” takes D’Angelo and puts him thru a bit of Chicago jazz, courtesy of Makaya McCraven. It’s a spot of sunshine on an overcast day. “You Are(What You Eat)” is sort of this existential swath of blues that puts me in mind of Perfume Genius and the late, great Jeff Buckley. Knowles knows how to layer his vocals to create a tapestry of beauty and mystery, with just the right touches of sonic static to make it interesting.
I say this with the utmost sincerity, Fishland is one of the most impressive debuts I’ve heard in a long time. Elihu Knowles is the kind of artist with a head full of sounds, ideas, and melodies and he knows how to put them out into the world in the most creative of ways. As Aaron Space & His Terrestrial Underlings he takes these songs and turns them into a sort of musical Pollock painting, splashing just the right musical colors in just the right spots. The results are a soul/pop record that reaches high and touches the milky way.
8.0 out of 10
Fishland will be released May 22nd. You can preorder it here.