Bowling Green’s Indian Opinion Release Their Debut Album.
I remember the first time I caught an Indian Opinion show. It was a rainy Friday night in Bowling Green, the college town to which the band currently still calls home, and seemingly few kids were out for a night on the town. The band was holding a showcase at Grumpy Dave’s for local artists and associated side projects, so I hustled across town in an attempt to make it to the venue relatively dry and on time. When I arrived rappers, DJs, and bands were trading sets, and a dozen or so patrons were drinking at the bar. By the time the, now, four piece hit the stage (JP Stebal on drums, Connor Mancini on Trumpet, Benji Katz on bass, and Mark Dylan on guitar) and I noticed them playing an early version of what is now the album cut “Cali Dreams” they’d managed to pull the whole bar’s crowd tightly against the small stage. The crowd size more than quadrupled once they kicked into the second song, and that bouncing mass of people caused the floor to sag slightly, but in that moment no one seemed concerned. Navigating a set that included Daft Punk and Outkast covers, the band would expand their covers and originals into 10+ minute jams, trading solos and pulling local rappers on stage to kick impromptu verses-with or without a microphone handy. Indian Opinion is a well-known outfit now in Bowling Green because the magic of that one night’s show is somehow always repeatable, and they’ve made their name turning living rooms and backyards of college towns into electric dance parties.
Now the band is set to release their first full length record, Confluence Boom. On this release the band twists and subverts the world of music academia into new palatability in ways not unlike BADBADNOTGOOD, Vulfpeck, Snarky Puppy, or Hiatus Kaiyote. This disciplined sound of the hip young jazzhead set is mixed with what, to some, is perceived as it’s polar opposite, the expansive and freewheeling jam styles of bands like G. Love & Special Sauce, String Cheese Incident, and Widespread Panic. Although the band doesn’t explicitly cite these bands, their amalgamate of styles lends itself to noticing a whole range of possible influences. Each cut on Confluence Boom is a tug of war between these two sensibilities though, intermittently adorned with the spoken word verses of bassist and poet Benji Katz. It’s a sound that aims to impress the ear of the well-trained musician, but moves bodies just as successfully.
What ultimately sets Indian Opinion apart from other funk-rock outfits and feel-good jam bands is Katz’s spoken word contribution. These verse can be wordy- too verbose for some, but his exploration of intonation and euphony are major considerations when he slams like Gil Scott-Heron at a Phish concert tailgate-while simultaneously playing bass(!). He writes with impressive detail. On the single “Primordial Pho” Katz’s writing style is strongest, stringing lines critiquing the diets of cavemen together to criticize overconsumption of modern man. His style works best here, and when, in the music video, we see Katz having fun with his caveman concept, we realize that his free-verse isn’t pretension, as was the impression of my untrained ear, but rather there are layers of irony, critique, and wordplay to reveal from these poems.
These frantic free verse meditations pair well with lead vocalist Mark Dylan’s simpler singer-songwriter style. Dylan’s vocal range impresses here, as he sings songs of escapism and of skipping town with lovers. These are songs from the perspective of wide eyes, newly formed by the college experience and dilated from…. Whether considering the diets of modern men, bemoaning Trump supporting fathers, or their indignation of those cultural signifiers of cool like box logo clothing brands and overpriced drinks, these twelve tracks pair the two songwriter’s styles for a whole range of impressive vocalizations and subject matters.
Opening with some understated and impressive drum work from percussionist JP Stebal, ‘Yeatman’s Quarrels’ is the album’s strongest cut instrumentally. All four members wow during the 6:10 runtime of this funk-tinged jam, with trumpeter Connor Mancini taking center stage to great effect. The strongest song lyrically is “Bible Paperweight”. It lets lead Dylan take the limelight, to a decluttered ska shuffle behind him he sings confidently dense verses. His lead, reaching falsetto at times, is accentuated by sweet vocal harmony, a technique they must find difficult pulling off in the basement and backyard shows that helped build their fanbase. Evidence that although this outfit pursues a feel-good summertime jam sound, there are things they want desperately to commit to tape that they haven’t yet mastered live on stage. This is a band who’s music is best consumed live, but realizing that they’re exploring vocal harmonies and triplet poetic prose in the studio reveals an ambition to expand this sound and intention to explore.
This record is ultimately a survey of the wicked world’s injustices according to Indian Opinion. These aren’t incredibly introspective or urgent songs though, and shouldn’t be, as they come from a band that makes very social music. These are social guys, writing songs in common rooms with stanzas punctuated by the interruption of drunken banter. It’s a band that’s learned the best way to cut through the noise of the house party is with a ripping solo and they’re beginning to perfect those skills. These are songs for summer, for the house party that spills into the backyard, but crafted with the pens of brilliant young songwriters.