A frequent collaborator of Babyface, Flying Lotus, and Kamasi Washington, the Los Angeles keyboardist brings a wide range of inspirations to bear on a fun, frothy record that’s slathered with vocoder.
Older siblings can mess you up in so many ways. They can out-wrestle you, put your toys on a higher shelf should the whim strike, casually tell you that you’re adopted at dinner. And then there’s what Brandon Coleman’s brother did to him when he first took up playing piano at the age of 16: He gave him a copy of Herbie Hancock’s Sunlight. Hancock’s skills could make almost any novice abandon the piano, but this 1978 disco-funk album was shot through instead with Hancock’s vast array of synths and his vocoder-warped vocals. And in the years since, Coleman has gone on to play for Babyface, Childish Gambino, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat; he’s also a pillar of saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s band.
On Resistance, his first album for FlyLo’s Brainfeeder imprint, Coleman lets the Sunlight in while also drawing on the other late-’70s/early-’80s titans who also roboticized their pipes. Across Resistance’s 12 frivolous but frisky tracks, he also alights on Stevie Wonder and Zapp & Roger, and, like his predecessors, Coleman finds a way to use the vocoder’s warble to amalgamate jazz, soul, and funk. That’s Coleman’s vocal fluttering across the symphonic disco stomp of “Live For Today” with the life-affirming purr: “Girl, we can’t be afraid to live for today/No matter what they say.” It’s a carpe diem come-on couched in the plushest velvet.
While vocoder-tinged songs were mostly a funk curio in the late ’70s and early ’80s, those silvery, weirdly slick singing styles have since become mainstream thanks to the unavoidable alien shimmer of Auto-Tune infiltrating modern popular music, from EDM to R&B to hip-hop. In dusting off the old vocoder, Coleman has good company in artists like Daft Punk and Chromeo. But he doesn’t sound overly studious about the era—more like he was neck-deep in it, the feel less robotic and more fluid.
Coleman’s chops are on point throughout, nailing high notes with the vocoder, adding beguiling keyboard ripples, crafting sweet bridges to catchy choruses, riding in the pocket of the album’s infectious grooves. His horns and fat synth squelches on “A Letter to My Buggers” are the sweetest ear candy, and he adds just a smidge more bounce to the ounce on the Zapp homage “Sexy,” carrying on that vocoder-funk lineage wherein a future full of horndog cyborgs is envisioned.
It’s a fun future to imagine and move to. And throughout, Resistance keeps the proceedings light, sometimes to a fault. “Addiction,” with its big, echoing canned claps and keytar vrooms, isn’t about the opioid crisis—just old-fashioned pheromones. But such playfulness—frothiness, even—makes for a fun spin. For those accustomed to Coleman’s role laying the foundation for expansive spiritual-jazz explorations in Kamasi Washington’s band, it’s revelatory to hear him so spry on his feet and down to get down. If his work with Washington contains all the weight and gravitas of Sunday church, Coleman’s Resistance has all the fun, breeziness—and yes, sunlight—of an afternoon church picnic.
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