I hate writing reviews. It’s nothing against the entire medium of music reviews. I’m not some purist who believes all music can be good music to someone (I mean “Closing Time”, c’mon…) I just find that typically the music I like speaks for itself, and I have little to contribute in perpetuating or defining it. But every so often I’ll come across a release I’m so floored by, I can’t help but gush excitement to everyone I know and desirously scour the internet for others who agree with me. Needless to say, when I heard Lincoln’s debut EP, A Constant State of Ohio, I thought just that. Yet when I typed keywords for the record into Google, all I came across were articles for news happening in Lincoln, Nebraska or Ohio. Somehow this dazzling release went fairly unnoticed. So I thought, fuck it, I’ll write a review.
Lincoln is a 19-year-old singer songwriter based in Cincinnati, Ohio who released his debut EP A Constant State of Ohio on January 27 via I Surrender Records. From the first few moments it’s quite evident that this is beyond the work of a teenager, or even someone’s major label debut. Lincoln’s voice is mature and steady, reminiscent of an early Jake Ewald from Modern Baseball. What I find different in his melodic structure and vocal performance from traditional emo music, however, is the confidence with which he sings. There’s no whine, no stretch for notes, no shaking. The opening track “Saint Bernard” starts off as a semi a capella, foot-tapping ballad. As the song progresses, distorted background harmonies crash around his melody, almost sporadically, filling out the tune’s spectral range. It’s unique and dynamically fascinating, giving the artist an instantly recognizable characteristic. His lyrics are whimsical yet poignant, reflective and clever, as he sings, “A Saint Bernard sits at the top of the driveway / you always said how you love dogs / I don’t know if I count / but I’m trying my best / when I’m howling and barking these songs.”
Lincoln scatters his record with well-produced distorted guitars, clean chugging drums, harmonies and moments of introspection on top of half note piano chords. It comes together so cohesively that it’s hard to believe he’s a solo act. He rarely gets in the way of himself. He reflects upon the struggles of being old enough to move away from home, though young enough to be lost and confused about it. In the single “Smoky Eyes,” Lincoln comments on the anxiety of meeting new people, “There’s nothing worse than making new friends.” In the standout track “Downhill,” his voice and words are as crisp as ever, cutting smoothly through a clean picked, folksy guitar. In the chorus, group vocals belt out behind his calmly preformed main vocal, transcending the originally established nature of the song for something more powerful, more emotive. Perhaps this is a metaphor for his true, more blatant emotions remaining internal, while showing a face of tranquility for the rest of the world to believe. He croons, “Hey man isn’t it poetic / that they sky is what we leave behind / cause I was born into the word / on a silken cloud / and I got bored of the world / before I hit the ground.”
The last minute of A Constant State of Ohio proves Lincoln’s brilliant manipulation of song structure. Throughout all of “Downhill” he introduces the chorus and then builds upon it, adding a drum roll, strings and harmonies. Then, at precisely the right time, he releases the tension by bursting the final chorus with crashing drums, power-chord guitars, and multiple vocals that resonate and leave the listener desperate to be singing alongside a thousand other fans in a concert hall. While Lincoln doesn’t introduce anything groundbreaking in his debut EP, he takes the emo form and alters it to make his own stunning release.