Austin Poole - Synesthesia, as Reviewed by the Phantom Tollbooth Former serviceman’s debut record is an eclectic, genre-hopping affair.

Independent Artist
10 Tracks (37:39)

Many a military man whose enlistment period is nearing its culmination has stopped to ponder how he’ll manage to fill his time after he exits the Armed Forces. For ex-Marine Austin Poole, that question was put to rest, once and for all, on March 13, 2010, when Poole stepped up to claim first prize in an amateur rap contest sponsored by his local Christian radio station – the prize being a backstage audience with former dc Talk frontman, tobyMac, just before Mac’s concert that evening in Bristol, Tennessee.
Given such heady rewarding for his skills, it should come as little surprise that his debut album features a fair amount of that same rapping which ultimately garnered such attention two years ago. Interestingly enough, though, a good number of his songs are sung rather than rapped and the raps that do appear are, as often as not, slotted in unobtrusively as part of a sonic swirl of energetic, metal-inclined guitars and frenetic synth work.

Turns out, this surprising approach yields some pretty winning results. The engaging dissonance of “Mare Imbrium” works slowly but surely to bring the listener deeper and deeper into its infectiously droning grooves. The more funk-filled title cut trades the electric guitars of “Inbrium” for alternating electric and acoustic textures as Poole intersperses lightning-quick raps with hazy, neo-psychedlic vocalizing. And “Surrounded by Fire” and the equally inviting “Law of Prophets” find Poole growling his vocals over machine gun-paced fret workouts – all of which calls to mind everything that was great about early ‘90s-era Tourniquet, a band for which Poole has openly professed his admiration.

On the songs where Poole sings rather than raps, his vocal limitations – frequently either sharp or flat, occasionally awkwardly fitted into the rhythms of their respective songs – are only brought that much more to the forefront. The freshman effort, too, has an almost demo quality about it, which is all but a badge of honor for those in the indie camp, but, here, mostly serves to grind a good part of the record’s momentum to a standstill.

Of course, none of these weak points are even remotely insurmountable. A major label would almost surely garnish Poole’s songs with the body and gloss they require. And given the strength of his rap-based songs and the instrumental album closer, “This Judgement,” success may well be a matter of foregoing singing altogether and concentrating on his stronger suits. Either way, although the inaugural release is, objectively speaking, a relatively modest opening bow, Poole’s freshman outing nonetheless points with great promise to that which will ultimately follow.

- Bert Gangl

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