Electronic/instrumental artist James Freeman might be fairly new to releasing, but he’s already put out an impressive number of releases since he creatied the “flexicble musical entity” that is Gem FM. Since 2021, he’s released four full albums and a smattering of singles under the moniker. With a basis in blues guitar and a Ratatat-like composition style of merging analog and digital sounds, his new Sonic Boom album shows him stepping up the electonic aspect of his style, with some interesting results.
While producing the new album, my studio monitoring situation received a significant technical upgrade. This helped tremendously in fine-tuning my engineering and mastering efforts. I think Sonic Boom represents my best work to date with regard to my mixing and engineering. Having said that, I acknowledge that there will always be room for improvement.
This updgare not only shows in the imrpoved electronic prpduction quality of the work on Sonic Boom but in the creativity of songwriting and incorporating more dance elements than Gem FM’s previous works. This album goes far beyond a beat paired with a guitar, and Freeman says what was originally meant to be an EP turned into a full concept album, inspired by vintage 808 style and EDM.
With track names like “SwagR,” “4banger” and “Slide on Down,” Freeman’s certainly got the EDM lingo down. Listeners expecting some sort of punishing dubstep beat will have to expand their ideas of a “banger” pretty quickly, as we’re still very much in fusion territory. The electronic composition on most of the tracks, while much mroe prevalent than in previous iterations of Gem FM’s sound, is still there largely to feature the instrumentals.
On “4banger,” for example, an 80s style synthpop beat and new wave haromines serve to be the gounding force for a floating panflute line which flitters about the staff, also accentuated by electronic manipulation. “Serrated,” meanwhile, has a sort of tropical beat with a digital synth of a sitar, played like a classical Beethoven piano and album closer “Slide on Down” has a sort of Zappa-like chaos which captures a great sense of musical play. Talk about fusion.
Sonic Boom is the first album whicn doesn’t feature Freeman’s signature blues guitar in any meaningful way, and this shows the artist pushing out of his comfort zone. With this album, it’s clear Freemand as Gem FM is ready to experiment even more with sounds, and considering how diverse his work already is, “flexible music entity” is indeed the right descriptor for this project.