Resistance, the sophomore LP from funk-jazz polymath Brandon Coleman, begins with “Live For Today”, and “Live For Today” begins with weightlessness. There’s no gravity; just motion. An orchestral swell sends you floating through space, but this space isn’t some endless void bereft of light and substance. It’s a kaleidoscopic space of swirling colors and iridescent planets and strange cosmic shapes without name or origin. Then, a beat bullets forward, and these colors and planets and shapes start speeding past you. It’s unclear whether you’re moving or if your surroundings are. But it doesn’t matter; it’s the feeling of motion itself — a free fall where there is no fear of the earth, where there is no fear of anything at all — that counts.
“Just come with me / And baby you’ll see / That the future’s far away / There’s no time for us to waste,” Coleman sings, his voice vocoderized but still remarkably distinct. It’s a lyric that not only summarizes his philosophy, but also the philosophy that guided the synth-funk auteurs who inspired him: George Clinton, Herbie Hancock, and Zapp’s Roger Troutman, among a host of others who emblazoned their album covers with cosmonauts (think Hancock’s Flood and Thrust), flying saucers (Parliament’s Mothership Connection), and other unidentifiable yet oddly stylish spacecraft (Graham Central Station’s My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me).
For these artists, the future was “far away” but never out of reach. Always, it was something to strive for. Through their music, which spanned across genres and decades but invariably foregrounded the synthesizer as a means of reshaping reality, they surged toward the future as they saw it, never content to waste their time with Top 40 tropes or mainstream conventions. They surrounded themselves with science fiction iconography, but they backed up it up with music that sounded like it was beamed in from another world. You can hear the same restless experimentalism on Resistance, a memorable, albeit inconsistent, record by an unabashed futurist steeped in funk, jazz, electronica, and everything in-between.
An L.A. native, Coleman made his name as a fixture in Kamasi Washington’s acclaimed prog-jazz band. He stepped out on his own with 2011’s Self Taught, a record that, while intermittently compelling, made virtually no impact. Since then, Coleman has kept busy, working with jazz luminaries across the west coast and marquee names like Flying Lotus and Thundercat. But this constant stream of collaborations, with indie and pop musicians alike, took a toll on him.
“I’ve been in the studio a lot in recent years, writing with this or that artist and I always felt constrained, like I had to compromise,” he explained. “This time I just wanted to create something that was really free, something original, to incorporate all the styles that I represent, because often when I’ve tried to do that in the past, it’s been met with resistance.”
Coleman, for the most part, achieves what he set out to do. Each song on Resistance feels playful and unencumbered, like the work of an artist given full license to indulge in his eccentricities. “Just Reach for the Stars” is a glittering mid-tempo strut that turns the dance floor into a place of worship for some cosmic being. “Giant Feelings”, the album’s lead single, melds horns, strings, digitized wails, and an implacable backbeat into something, at once, cohesive and falling apart at the seams. Tracks like “Addiction” and “Sexy” are forged from sheer funk exuberance.
However, most of the songs here also reveal Coleman’s Achilles heel: his futurism is, by all accounts, old-fashioned. In Hancock’s hands, in the synth-stabbed soundscapes concocted by Clinton and Troutman and their peers, this kind of funk engendered vague but stirring visions of what the future of pop might sound like. Here, they inspire little more than nostalgia; that, and an appreciation for Coleman’s ability to pay homage to his idols.
The closest Coleman gets to something frontier-pushing is “All Around the World”. Slick, modern, and effortless, its nu-disco fervor would not only have fit on Daft Punk’s stunning Random Access Memories, it would have stood out. By the track’s end, you find yourself back in the swirling cosmic space from “Live For Today”. Synth squiggles zoom past you like satellites; Coleman’s intonations echo like an alien tongue. If he can make more music like this, where the future sounds like something ahead of us rather than a motif handed down from the past, then we have a lot to look forward to.