Pop music is by definition formulaic. A verse, a bridge, a verse, maybe a feature and then an explosive ending. This is due to the same producers and writers creating most of the music that’s on the radio, or pressure from record labels to make a hit or a lack of creativity. That’s why some of the most genre-bending music can come from someone’s bedroom studio. Without any constraints or pressures, unpolished, independently-created music can be more beautiful and meaningful than anything that a collective of musicians and record executives could make. That’s exactly the case with Choker.
The 22-year-old Michigan native created his debut album, “Peak,” last year from his home. Entirely self-produced with no features, “Peak” was a look into Choker’s life. At ten tracks long, the project was a blend of pop, soul, rhythm and blues, electronica, and everything in between. “Peak” was adored by the few fans who heard it, appearing on best-of-the-year lists by many blogs. Choker appeared out of nowhere to release the album and then quietly disappeared. For a year after, he didn’t release any new music, news or posts on social media. That was until the end of July, when he tweeted that his follow-up album would come out in a week. And, on Aug. 3, “Honeybloom” graced the world.
The album artwork for “Honeybloom” is an acid-washed photo of Choker staring at his shadow, his head obscured by shades of pink and green. Spanning 14 tracks, the album is again totally led by Choker, with no features or other producers. “Honeybloom” sounds like the album artwork looks: a brightly colored, bleached soundscape.
What’s so magical about Choker’s music is that you never know where it’ll lead you. Each song is filled with abrupt beat changes, leaving a hook or verse in the middle to include a rap verse or a haunting orchestral closing. Take the middle track, “Rocket,” for example. Over its six-minute length, Choker experiments with moving from explosive singing to a rap verse to an instrumental interlude to a spoken word poem before quietly crooning out the end of the song. These changes don’t feel rushed, but instead play into their respective mood. Explosive electronic screeches are abrupt, but smooth crooning takes its time to build into an entirely different song. “Honeybloom” can switch on a dime or quietly flow. The album feels more like 40 different songs all blended together.
For an independently-produced and released album, “Honeybloom” is surprisingly polished and inventive. Choker uses all sorts of different instruments and sounds to craft the unique project. He may float over lithe guitar strings or shout over booming drums. Some of the sounds are so idiosyncratic that I have no clue what is actually creating them. On the album’s first track, “Drift,” the intro sounds like a robotic waterfall. “Suzuki Peaches” feels like it could fit in a Mario game.
“Honeybloom” isn’t just sonically deep. For his relative young age, Choker’s aptitude for songwriting is impactful. Between spoken word segments, Choker waxes about life and relationships, loneliness and sadness. His subject matter and tone are as diverse as his soundscape. On “Drift,” he confidently raps: “Put my daddy’s plans on hold / I’ma do me, I’ve got my own goals.” Only a few tracks later, he ponders if his relationship will last by musing: “When we run out of things to talk about, will you still listen to our silence?”
There is an obvious parallel between Choker and Frank Ocean, especially on Choker’s first album. While definitely not a terrible artist to be compared to, Choker’s work seems to have been under Ocean’s shadow. This is partly due to Choker’s voice sounding eerily similar to Ocean’s as well as both artists’ knack for contemplative lyrics. But on “Honeybloom,” Choker finds his own sound: it’s eclectic, filled with what sounds familiar but is filtered through a rose-tinted lens and blended to form something completely new. Choker’s absence from the world while crafting music is unfortunate; but, if the product is something so gorgeous, I’ll take it