Aaron Abernathy - Monologue (2016)

Aaron Abernathy
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The name may throw you at first. For the last five years, to the buying public, the Cleveland-born, DC-based singer/songwriter/producer, Aaron Abernathy, has been better known as “Ab.” Over those years, there has been a steady stream of critically acclaimed EPs—some better than others—but each a portrait in the evolution of a young, indie artist evolving into a full-bodied, multi-faceted creative force. From an auspicious debut, 2012’s The Prologue EP, to 2014’s About Last Summer, Abernathy’s succession to influencers like Prince and D’Angelo have been evident but inconsistent as Abernathy worked to find his own distinctive voice. While the familiar funk and harmonic influences are clear on Monologue, so is the fact that Abernathy has settled more into the artist he’s going to be, one all his own.  

The name may throw you at first. For the last five years, to the buying public, the Cleveland-born, DC-based singer/songwriter/producer, Aaron Abernathy, has been better known as “Ab.” Over those years, there has been a steady stream of critically acclaimed EPs—some better than others—but each a portrait in the evolution of a young, indie artist evolving into a full-bodied, multi-faceted creative force. From an auspicious debut, 2012’s The Prologue EP, to 2014’s About Last Summer, Abernathy’s succession to influencers like Prince and D’Angelo have been evident but inconsistent as Abernathy worked to find his own distinctive voice. While the familiar funk and harmonic influences are clear on Monologue, so is the fact that Abernathy has settled more into the artist he’s going to be, one all his own.  

On Monologue, in some ways Aaron Abernathy does some interesting things we don’t see as much of in modern music and in others he’s following a welcome trend. First, Monologue is a groovetastic concept album telling a coming of age romantic story partially about a relationship as it unfolds (“I See You”). In some of its departures from the core story, where Abernathy talks about family love and friendship tensions (“Son of Larry (featuring Deborah Bond)” and “Favorite Girl”), it reflects more of the post-modern novel than a play’s monologue. As a writer, Abernathy tells stories from without as much as within, with the layered project exploring inner monologues (“Kiss Me Again”) as much as it does plot progressions (“Play It Cool,” “I Need To Know”). Like artists such as Anderson.Paak, Abernathy is following the sounds of the day is in his blended shake of multiple genres, from jazz and R&B to funk and hip hop, the sensibilities of each are on display but melded into something that still feels fresh and flawlessly sewn together in an unexpected tapestry.

Vocally, Abernathy has improved considerably in the last two years from a catalogue heavy with technically astute harmonies but far, far too many careless lead vocals under his Ab moniker. This time Abernathy came to win, using all the technique his years of study at the famed Howard University and time on the road with his band, Nat Turner, and more famed outfits like Slum Village and Black Milk afforded him. If there’s a complaint to be found on the vocals this go ‘round, it’s on the production side. As the producer, Abernathy’s over reliance on auto-tune, reverb, and the vocoder on his harmonies suggests he doesn’t trust their delivery without the distorting overlays, which is insane given the perfect intricacies of his vocal arrangement and his much improved singing abilities on leads and backing vocals. The production effects instead can pilfer a moment of its glory as it does on “When Reality Sets In” featuring keyboardist and producer extraordinaire, Zo! The consistency of Abernathy’s heavy-handed production approach on vocals makes his harmony work both his strength and his Achilles, particularly for fans who’ll find only harshness in what could be even more beautiful if the wizardry wasn’t getting in the way.

The rest of Monologue has much in its favor, with his Nat Turner band delivering aces across the board on every cut. While Abernathy’s music compositions and arrangements are sometimes playful in their funk explorations ala Prince, Abernathy’s lyrics and vocals can be serious as a heart attack. However, his subject matters of blossoming youth and their conflicts suggest a levity that never comes. Monologue’s charm instead comes in its story’s relatability for any young person or former young person who has felt pulled in multiple directions, lost and unfocused, in love, in hate, posing and/or depressed, sometimes all at the same time.

Still, there are two moment of shimmering lightness on Monologue. One comes from “Bachelorette,” featuring the often-hilarious singer-rapper, Phonte of The Foreign Exchange, and Abernathy’s compatriot, Black Milk. The other arrives through, “Ab is Gone Away,” a song that could be interpreted as a funeral dirge even though it isn’t composed or produced that way. Nonetheless, “Ab is Gone Away” is a song about the death of one identity and the implicit embrace of another, in the way a boy sheds a childhood nickname to be taken more seriously as a man.

With Monologue, there is no question Aaron Abernathy deserves to be taken seriously as a rising artist with something substantive to say and an increasingly original way to say it. With crisp productions, deeply personal storytelling, and a faithfully funky vocal, Abernathy receives a standing ovation for his Monologue. Highly Recommended. 

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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