TEGA sounds almost unrecognizable in this short collection of heavily-produced electronic music. He manages to push all the right experimental boundaries in a surprising, but excellent, sophomore effort.

For its first minute and a half, TRANSIT  appears to have been made by another TEGA—not the jazz singer who made last year’s excellent Body. Old TEGA used real instruments—not the Boiler Room software behind this new TEGA. Moreover, new TEGA raps with a menacingly deep voice; old TEGA’s voice was light and soothing. After the first minute and a half, a hi-hat waxes and wanes across the musical plane, and a familiar voice begins to sing. It’s old TEGA; or rather, it’s just TEGA. A closer look at the tracklist reveals ogHenny as the deep-voiced rapper on album opener, “Five Elements.”

Co-produced with Ángel Sierra, “Five Elements” presents TEGA as the engineer—not merely the conductor—of an electronic music train. Body feels like a pleasant trip through the Kansas plains in comparison to the foreign, mountainous land that TEGA speeds through on TRANSIT. TEGA, aka Joseph Colby Ewatuya, leaves himself off “Five Elements,” allowing ogHenny to perform his best Azealia Banks impression on a track that would fit in at Paris Fashion Week. Rather than portraying his voice as the central attraction as he did on Body, Ewatuya leans into his previous album’s more digital aspects in order to paint an artificial landscape on TRANSIT. Ewatuya’s choice to emphasize his electronic production skills is bold considering the superiority of heavily-instrumented cuts on Body such as “Scars” and “Flesh.” Yet, Ewatuya’s risk works because he retains Body’s sonic friskiness and meditative lyricism while molding its improvisational jazz into a more controlled, but more unpredictable program on TRANSIT. TRANSIT succeeds when Ewatuya gets weird.

“StartStop” begins a number of moments throughout the album in which Ewatuya contorts, flexes, and maneuvers his voice to project thematic complexity in bold ways. The track—on which Ewatuya appears shortly after ogHenny’s introduction—contains a thumping techno bass drum that increases in frequency as Ewatuya sings, “I’ve got to think about my future / Before it’s already past.” The bass slows down before eventually disappearing and resurfacing at a stuttering chorus which contains a complex exchange of “start” and “stop” before finishing at the word “again.” It’s meta, but also an accurate illustration of anxiety-inducing situations such as post-college uncertainty and unemployment.

If “StartStop” illustrates the inertia that occurs periodically throughout young adulthood, “Tsunami” encapsulates the feeling of being overwhelmed when strength disintegrates and leaves nothing but thoughts of failure. A gloomy piano line remains constant throughout the song, on top of which Ewatuya sings almost exclusively, “Why do these thoughts consume me?” Although the song’s tone evokes despair, Ewatuya builds gorgeous vocal harmonies whose altitude continuously surprise. The sublime vocals clash with a bridge where Ewatuya sings, “The pressure keeps building / Til’ it cracks” over an abrasive flute and guitar. The tsunami’s wave is both beautiful and jarring, suggesting a struggle between growth and destruction. Beneath his moody exterior, Ewatuya either learns how to break out of his chrysalis or suffocate within it.

TRANSIT’s final two songs develop a conclusion to the predicament in “Tsunami.” On track four, “Awkwardly Charming,” TEGA appears to have rediscovered his voice, with an operatic introduction to either a lover or himself.  The moment is playful and energizing and marks a shift in TEGA’s attitude. He recognizes love as something that presents itself in the mundane—like being on a train on a Tuesday or in the kitchen cooking rice. These aren’t moments one often thinks of sharing; they’re moments of self-sustenance which keep Ewatuya “patiently waiting” as he describes. Ewatuya’s voice pitches down on the last note when he sings, “Would you turn up your nose / If I stand in close?,” imitating a pitch modulator on a keyboard. Then, a classic techno garage-house beat reminiscent of Disclosure follows. He asks, “Can I be awkwardly charming / Or is it charmingly awkward?” It doesn’t seem to matter. He resigns himself to the patience required for reciprocated love, or ultimately, self-affirmation.

“Sensitiv Reactor” builds on the narrator’s self-reflection on “Awkwardly Charming” and concludes with a joyful Latin beat. Whereas TEGA felt overwhelmed by time on “StartStop” and failure on “Tsunami,” he begins to make peace with himself on the song’s final track. TEGA sings, “How did it come to this? / One simple action leads to the fifth / Did I just pull the switch? / I’m a sensitive reactor.” Rather than succumb to the inevitability of suffering, he becomes self-actualized through cognitive awareness. He no longer blames himself for his thoughts as he did on “Tsunami,” but recognizes that thoughts, feelings, and actions affect each other. The result is a robotic auto-tune voice on “Sensitiv Reactor,” symbolizing the fact that he feels more programmed, but overall more in control of his emotions.

Despite critiques against more electronic parts of Body, Ewatuya leans into his more experimental side on TRANSIT. Too much abstraction could have left Ewatuya’s sophomore effort stale and predictable, but he nails it by managing to not only retain—but improve—his skill for developing TEGA as a raw and tangible character. TRANSIT proves TEGA to be one of the braver and more original artists in Boston’s music scene.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.