PLAYING DETROIT: Rowan Niemisto Releases “Gradient” EP

COLUMNS|Playing Detroit

Detroit artist Rowan Niemisto has only been producing solo work for a year or so, but he’s already got two EPs and a handful of stand-alone singles under his belt. His latest EP Gradient dropped November 30th, written, recorded and produced entirely on his own. Niemisto deserves some serious props for being able to do it all – and make it sound good. Gradient is an ethereal fusion of soul, jazz and electronica that brings a modern approach to ancient themes of love, loss and nostalgia.

The four-song EP starts with “Without Trying,” a catchy breakup anthem that combines soul and synths. Niemisto maintains the simplistic lyrics and hooky melodies found in classic soul while adding heavy electronic elements that bring the song to present-day. The track’s addictive beat and relatable lyrics can make even the most brokenhearted people feel blasé about losing the loves of their lives – at least for four minutes.

Next, Niemisto bares his jazz influence on “Behave,” a sexy plea to keep a loved one. “I don’t want nobody but you,” could easily trigger an eyeroll if received in the form of a text from the everyday playboy; however, delivered in Niemisto’s sultry vocals, the generally overused line feels genuine and somewhat irresistible. He’s not reinventing the wheel by any means, but paying sweet homage to old-school R&B and jazz with silky falsettos and bluesy electric guitar.

“Behave” is followed by “Flips,” a modern, dreamy track where the listener is invited into Niemisto’s stream of consciousness. Minimalist, vacillating guitar is accompanied by the distant laughter of children, suggesting Niemisto’s yearning for a simpler time. He repeats “Tell me you’ll stay/Say you love me,” in an almost ritualistic way, making his trance-like state contagious.

After these lofty heights, we fall back to earth with “Honeymoon,” the EP’s grounding final track. The song reflects on the inevitable end of infatuation – something that anyone who’s ever been in relationship longer than two months can relate to. Niemisto sings, “I keep hoping that time won’t change us/I liked it better when we were strangers” – an arrestingly honest to capture the loss of a spark. Luckily, it doesn’t seem like Niemisto’s passion for making music will fade anytime soon.

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