James Austin Melton – Will Made Manifest | Unrestrained
The years 2020 and 2021 created perhaps some of the best music coming out of adversity. In the huge digital cultural space, human beings found respite in expressing themselves through song. However, in the chaotic industry of music, what really separates one piece of work from another? What is the element of experimentation that draws listeners to a particular artist in an almost metaphysical manner? Whatever this secret ingredient of music production is, American singer-songwriter and music producer James Austin Melton has managed to capture the essence of it and encapsulate it in a seven-track full-length album — Will Made Manifest.
The album spans over twenty minutes and is divided into the crossfading melodies of seven numbers — Living in the Neon, I Won’t Write Another, Time is a Strange and Mysterious Thing, I Haven’t A Clue, Rain Drops and Ben-Day Dots, That’s The Road, That’s The Road Reprise. Will Made Manifest captures perhaps the most quintessential element of experimental hyper-pop, mixing it with other genres such as Rhythm and Blues, Soul and Jazz. Still fully nascent and metamorphosizing into the various industries of music, James Austin Melton appears unrestricted entirely to the traditional approach of caricatural art — where most new artists find it easier to simply mellow into a pre-existing genre rather than developing their own unique style.
This makes Will Made Manifest not only interesting but also very intriguing. The album features self-assured, confident, sometimes funky and sometimes philosophical lyricism assisted with lustrous and silky vocal performances. Aside from the lyricism, the tracks in the album seem to sport a very unique tone of the electric guitar — a near bubblegum-pop sounding sound — that crests and troughs across the album, occasionally manifesting itself in a corresponding guitar solo. At its most foundational level, the soundscape sounds rhythm and bluesy plus soul, but the instrumentation’s arrangement disallows restriction to a simple duality. In a way, the long melodies are wave-like, washing over the track with a mind of their own.
The tracks appear carefree and feature multi-varied instrumentation on them, including some very groovy bass licks that play in the layered arrangements in accompaniment to the guitars and electronically pulsating tone of the music. The tracks in Will Made Manifest are not the usual run-of-the-mill individual numbers that occur in a conventional album format but are almost episodic instalments from James Austin Melton’s personal experiences — morphing into a collective soundscape.
Captivated by the album, we decided to reach out to the maestro himself for his inputs on the album. Here is how that went:
Congratulations on your new work! How would you describe Will Made Manifest to someone going into it fresh?
First, I would say thanks for listening! Second, I’d tell them to disregard genre for the most part. Much of it swings like jazz but grooves like RnB. It has pop elements and also rock elements. Overall, I hope it makes listeners feel good.
The EP really dabbles in several genres, from the funky element of hyper pop but with the indie-pop vocal performances, to the mild ragtime arrangements in parts to the near-dramatic soundscapes you build. How would you best sum up the category the EP falls in?
I’m not sure. I wasn’t going for a particular sound or style, rather, I let the songs and their production lead me toward the overall sound. If I had to label it — poppy, jazzy soul fusion? I’m not sure.
Would you say the EP is a concept album – if not lyrically, but at least in the style that you want to portray through it?
I’d say yes. Not necessarily in the story it tells, but rather in the way it was made and what influenced it. The concept behind its production was that each song started out as a riff or idea in my DAW, and I would play and adapt and mold it out from that initial idea. This was a spontaneous production, where I didn’t set out with an idea beyond “make an album.” The fact that most of it was recorded and written in hotel rooms and on the road while I was traveling for work also adds to a structural coherency that might not be readily apparent to listeners.
What were some musical inspirations for the EP, if any?
A lot of jazz, RnB, Steely Dan, Hall and Oats, Stevie Wonder, and other feel-good classics.
Understandably, this is one of your early works. How do you think the future looks for your music in terms of exploring various sounds and genres, themes or cliques?
Well, since this was a pandemic project, I recorded and performed, and arranged all the instruments and parts. I’d hope my future musical endeavors are a bit less isolated. I’d like to continue with my unique mutt-breed of jazz-pop RnB, but I also want to put out instrumental jazz as well. Here’s to the future!