Multi-instrumentalist Bobby Shock, based in New Jersey, released his 6th solo album "The Unforeseen" on September 16th, 2020. While Shock is mainly a bassist, the album seems to put a heavy focus on synths. The songs are reminiscent of the upbeat and dreamy 70s prog pieces, such as those of Yes and Genesis. According to Shock, he also took influence from classical music and film scores. In addition, bass parts abundantly altered with pedals, layered and sometimes electronic-sounding vocals, 32nd note hi-hat beats form the overarching sound of this record.
Shock dedicates "The Unforeseen" to his grandfather, who passed away in December 2019. The lyrics deal with personal struggles, quite a few being about his recent loss, rather than more general topics. They have a conversational and intimate vibe, almost like a wise man giving advice. Yet, the personal aspect of it convinces me that each song is a deep dive into Bobby Shock's self-therapizing mind.
Bobby Shock - bass, vocals, synthesizer, drums, keyboard
Mastered by Mark Koch
1. Mr. Unsatisfied (4:24)
The first track of the album dives right into the psychedelic atmosphere, one of Bobby Shock's main influences as we will see, after setting the stage with a short drum-based intro. What stands out in this section is the calm and almost acid-trip like guitar and bass contrasting with the highly energetic drum beat. This imbalance is what keeps the listeners themselves "unsatisfied". But perhaps, Shock could've laid more stress on it to actually put us in the shoes of whom the narrator is talking to.
Lyrically, the song reminded me of John Lennon's "Nowhere Man" but directly talking to the criticized character. Like Lennon asking his character to not miss out in those changing times, Shock emphasizes that the dissatisfaction that his character experiences is only a reflection of his own mind and thus, he should "unwind" from his distorted perspective of the world. Though it feels a little contradictory to include both lines of "I'm so sorry for whatever you lost" and "I could care less / Nor would I ever Want to solve them".
2. Take It Easy (3:23)
Whenever I hear that electric piano sound with the phaser effect, I go back to my childhood where I spun some Supertramp vinyl every other day. The whole emotion and psychedelia that it contains cannot be described with words, yet it is obvious that this was the specific soundscape that Bobby Shock was trying the explore and embedded in their style. The inherently easy feel of the chord progression and sound of piano sets the tone for a happy adventure-however, sooner or later the heavily effective bass and strings cut through that with a heavy wave of melancholia. It is certainly not a coincidence that both Tame Impala and Bobby Shock discovered the same style with the same early influence, one can deduce that they both were influenced by the same aspects of the pop-prog scene (like Supertramp) and these influences create a certain taste of music that leads to the exploration of certain areas in music. The general atmosphere of the song perfectly describes the values of Bobby Shock's music, both with lyrics that advise a slow-lived happy life with cherishing all the moments that you have and with the fairy vibe.
3. The Unforeseen (4:32)
Maybe the darkest intro of the album, Bobby "shocks" the audience with his bass sound that doesn't make you look for a distorted guitar riff for him to achieve the heavy feel. The synth(mellotron-like) use of the song has the core elements of the album. It feels like he has not been re-inventing his music through to process of the album, but standing at the same spot also is a good way to fully express who you are and what you want to achieve. It would certainly be better if he strives for differentiation and innovation with his new releases since one should question if there was any space left to discover within this realm and vision. The whole track is a ballad sounding jam bank that contains synth solos, rhythmical changes(such as playing with the idea of double and half times, without murmuring much about the time signatures), and many layers of different instruments. Since the song has no vocal performance, the bass serves for this duty with melodic and high octave playing-which is also authentic for Bobby Shock's music. Dynamically, The Unforeseen has many ups and downs that sometimes may cause you to lost track of the structure of the song as you try to flow through the sounds that make up the dreamy atmosphere.
4. Picture Perfect Picnic (4:24)
Continuing the overall feel of the album, "Picture Perfect Picnic" is exactly what its name suggests: a calm and upbeat song swarming with hope and positivity. The energetic drumming mixed with a variety of synths from the 80's leads to the first verse and one of the first things you notice is the effects Shock applied to his voice here. This technique is going to be overused in the chorus (to a point where you can't even understand what he is singing at times), but from the beginning, you can hear it from the harmonies and the amount of delay present. The song has a slight funk feel and the lyrics reminds us of the album's cover, with the abundance of the color green.
The picture perfect picnic that Shock describes is, although somewhat cliché in certain lines, still capture the ideal picnic, and in general, the ideal memory that everyone has. A moment in our lives so perfect that we long to go back to it. We're curious whether Shock had any personal connections with these lyrics:
It's a picture perfect picnic In a pleasant pasture Sharing food and drink Underneath the big blue sky
5. Infestation (3:22)
An unexpected mixture of disco pop and insects is how I would summarize this song. The creativity that Bobby Shock has when it comes to altering his voice does not cease to surprise me. This time, a mellotron sounding Shock welcomes us right off the bat into what some people would consider their worst nightmare: Infestation. The steady hi-hat pattern and the cranked up bass amp up the tension, leading to an atmospheric section. The song continually interchanges between calm and tense sections, almost reminding the listener of the never-ending nightmare detailed in the lyrics. The lyrics, although short and repetitive (much like the sections themselves), paints a very clear picture, or rather repellent in this case. It is not easy to understand some of the words but it doesn't in any way reduce the disgust we feel in Shock's voice. It is indeed a very weird topic to write a song about; however, the overall atmosphere that he created proves that you can write a song about almost anything.
6. Bandwagon (3:53)
Unexpectedly, the 6th track Bandwagon cleans the listener's ears with a little of melodic guitar playing- after more or less all the other tracks give a start in the same way. While being a personal favorite of the album, it also is the funkiest and catchy song of the album with the electronic music influences and melodic vocals. The electronic drums are probably the most interesting part of the track since it has been tried to use in a way that differentiates from all the others in the album. The dynamics of the song strongly held together and led by that fast drum loop with many added details. Ideally, Bandwagon is a criticization of the people who are can't find an inner strength of being themselves and take responsibility for the possible bad consequences of their actions. Rather, they'd choose to be the riskless"bandwagons" that has been controlled by-y the day-to-day trends of the people that we all live in. One can say they are the modern Sysysphus'us that continues to rolling the rocks without any grumble or possession to find meaning under their actions. They'll just roll the rock again...
7. It's Whatchu Got to Do (5:51)
It surprised me that this song started with a compressed hip-hop theme that later blossoms into a beautiful atmospheric section. The main component behind everything is the grand piano riff that continues throughout the verse. The bass follows a hybrid of this riff and the vocal melody, overall creating a sense of unity between the two parts. Except for a few rhythmic plays, up until the 3rd minute, the song doesn't introduce a new component. Right where the listener's attention is fading, a piano and drum interlude regains it. I sent this interlude to a few people and asked them to identify the reference, but they couldn't do it, so it might just be me; I found this interlude incredibly similar to the famous Firth of Fifth piano part. I'm a huge fan of the classic tom-tom build-up, always gets me pumped up. Shock plays this on top of a repetitive piano riff to signal a climax coming up. At the end of it, the lead synth puts the cherry on the cake with a descending arpeggio. The same interlude is elevated with this synth sound and lots of layers; loved it.
8. Don't Look Back (10:11)
The song starts off with the mood of an energetic 1970’s song. This powerful start is achieved by the lively 4/4 beat, accompanied by the sounds from the synthesizer. From the first second of the song, the listener can sense the tone of hope and inspiration, and this is the atmosphere that really correlates with the title “Don’t look back.”
As the song approaches the 1 minute mark, the 4/4 beat suddenly switches to a different melody. The vocals accompanying it are at a higher pitch, like the voice of a child, and this gives these questions a sense of naivety and innocence. The voices ask “Where do we go from here?” and the melody answers as it switches back to the start: “We can't have summer without a winter,” meaning that the only way we can go is to a time that is brighter and warmer. This integration of melodies and different pitched vocals makes it sound as if the naive and inexperienced child’s concerns are being answered by him in the future, a person who has gone through the “Unforeseen.” At the 2:40 mark the song calms down, and the serenity of the melody helps the listener believe that after fast paced periods, a state of calmness always awaits.
The transitionary period in between melodies –between 3:40 and 4:10– gives off psychedelic rock vibes and at the 4:10 mark, a bass solo, which is performed quite well, starts and continues for a solid minute. At 5:41 just as the listener had gotten used to the bass and its pleasant bass melody, a sudden shift in the rhythm changes the course of the song. This change may symbolize the sudden twists in life, the unexpected turns that lead us into thinking “Where do we go from here?”
The sounds slowly fade out and slow down, and the soothing vocals enter to tell us to let go of our worries, that it’s time to move forward. The keyboard in the background and these lyrics end the song –and the album– on an optimistic note, reminding us not to look back for one last time.