In the last few years, the American indie underground has been producing some pretty interesting content, and among the pop genre, artists like Mike Rickard have been effectively changing the game with a mix of heartfelt poeticisms and harmony-driven hooks that have as much in common with old school composing as they do contemporary trends in surrealism and wholly atmospheric melodies. Rickard’s 2018 album, Out Loud, is definitely an intriguing hybrid of classically verse-centric songwriting and an artsy, post-alternative approach to tonality, and while it isn’t the first time its creator has flexed some serious muscle as a performer, I would definitely say that it’s the best work he’s submitted so far, and perhaps a good benchmark for his less than erudite rivals to try and live up to in 2020.
The framework of songs like “Six Queer Kids,” “Taste Your Smile” and “Wouldn’t be Love” isn’t all that different from what one would find in a vintage 70’s pop single from early crossover artists, but as far as the varnishing is concerned, the textures of these tracks are made tangible to us more through modern mixing than they are any sort of rough edges in the music itself. Sonically speaking, all of the material on this LP sounds and feels as fresh as anything to come out of the underground’s more experimental factions in the last couple of years, if not a bit more so in the case of decadent compositions like “Don’t Feed the Ghosts” and the utterly brilliant “Not Finished Yet.”
“You’re to Blame,” “Alright” and the title track in Out Loud came across to me as some of the more liberally melodic songs Mike Rickard has recorded in his career thus far while “Six Queer Kids” and “Surrender” immediately felt like the most emotional, and when combining the evocative energy that all of these songs produce when consumed in a single listening session, I think it adds up to making one of the most thought-provoking pop LPs that you’re going to find on either side of the dial this spring. Where others in his peer group would cower from the subject matter he covers here, and, for that matter, the epic harmonies that accompany his every word, he isn’t holding anything back from us in this album, proving himself to be a far more adept player than much of the media had given him credit for with past releases.
Longtime fans and newcomers to Mike Rickard’s sound alike should make a point to listen to what he has to say to us in his fabulous LP Out Loud, and if what I’m hearing in its eleven songs are just a preview of what he’s going to be producing throughout the 2020’s, he’s going to see a lot more action on the charts in this decade than he did in the last. Rickard doesn’t have a hard time standing out in a crowd, but in this record, he makes it more than clear that his message isn’t about shining under the spotlight alone – it’s about forging your own path alongside the roads of others, no matter how daunting a task that might seem like.