The Aging Reggae Fusion Scene Finds A Light To Follow In Quinn XCII’s Latest Album

camjameson
Written by camjameson
/ 8 mins read

The other day, my brother & I were engaged in a pretty lengthy conversation about the state of modern Pop music, during which the name Quinn XCII came up as I described to him how peculiar it was that Reggae Fusion & Roots Rock music was still finding footing in today’s industry despite being such anachronistic sounds meant for a niche crowd who barely even show their faces in public anymore. About halfway through the conversation, we suddenly realized he’d been thinking of Charli XCX the entire time, as evidenced by his comments on her recent hit “1999” & the clever visual effects employed to pull off the fantastic music video that accompanied the banger, to which he then said “wait, who the hell is Quinn XCII then & why is his name like that?” As I pulled up the Wikipedia page & read how Quinn prefers his name to be pronounced ‘Quinn 92,’ my brothers eyes glazed over, clearly showing his disdain for the naming convention & this generation’s constant nomenclature trickery with no remorse, followed up by a question as to why today’s artists are so obsessed with weird names in the first place; I mean, first we had the whole //a e s t h e t i c// scene at the beginning of the Synth Pop revolution 6 years ago, then came all the Witch House bands like Glass Teeth & Ritualz who stylized their names as GL▲SS †33†H & †‡† respectively, finally followed by roman numerals & Greek lettering in more than a handful of modern acts like LOOΠΔ – Clearly, not only genres themselves but names are evolving alongside internet culture these days, with younger groups trying everything they possibly can to differentiate themselves in SOME way from the crowd now that the internet has flooded audiences with countless iterations of the same trends over & over. But that got me thinking: If all these name styles coincide with very distinct sonic profiles supported by fans who uphold the lifestyle with an iron fist, does Quinn XCII sound anything like the myriad artists he shares a text-style with? I’d only really heard what his music sounded like through secondhand accounts of fans who enjoy him, so I thought I knew exactly what I’d be getting into by giving him a try, but to my surprise he wasn’t a Dance Pop vixen, a ‘woke’ SoundCloud rapper or a brilliant electronic DJ in the least, rather he’s some kind of Macklemore type I had no interest in consuming whatsoever – Still, for the sake of argument, I dove into his latest album From Michigan With Love to see if I could glean some reason for him to associate with the Roman & Greek lettering lifestyle, finding some pretty surprising results within.

Trying To Make Heads Or Tails Of Quinn’s Whole Deal

As From Michigan With Love opens up, you’re greeted with the song “Holding Hands (feat. Elohim),” a tune that showed promise right from the start merely by having Electropop artist Elohim onboard, gearing you up for a soothing electronic experience worthy of the whole Synth Pop-adjacent naming convention, though on further analysis things start to get a little hazy – You see, this track has all the trappings of a good Electropop number: You have an airy mix of Synth Pop instrumentation & Indie Pop vocal ideals, peppered with a bit of Mainstream Rap lyricism for good measure, making for a really interesting combination of demographics that could in-theory make for a really compelling genre-bending composition for listeners, but it quickly loses steam once it comes time to transition from section to section as the actual instrumental implementation leaves a lot to be desired; If I’m being frank, it outright sucks – To elaborate, there’s a painfully poor sense of momentum propelling the track forward defined by incessant chorus buildups that never seem to resolve properly, borrowing elements from Future Bass & Dance Pop like the oh-so-popular tune-up vocal chopping that hit every Pop number in the last few years but never quite performing them in a way that connects with the listener how they should, feeling wholly weak & empty as a result. This continues on tracks like “Autopilot” that adopt a sort of Reggae Fusion bounce in the keyboards & vocal rhythms, sounding sort of like the early days of twenty one pilots before they’d figured their own groove out, but it’s really the vocal timbre of both of these tracks that make them so hard to listen to, Quinn somewhat hoping his forced side-mouthed drawl will prove sexy & relaxed enough to appeal to today’s shy, mental health-focused audiences, ultimately forming songs that feel ingenuine in narrative intent & unbalanced in production value, far too amateurish & jumbled to be put on the same level as the Tumblr-chic artists with weird names like Billie Eilish & ODESZA he’s trying to align himself with.

The Art Amongst The Madness

Now, while Quinn XCII certainly hasn’t shown any signs of successfully assimilating himself into the scene he wants to be a part of & his vocal timbre rubs me the complete wrong way, there are at least a handful of tracks across From Michigan With Love that I could concede as being entertaining pieces of music, albeit on a more mainstream scale than I’m accustomed to – For instance, “Werewolf (feat. Yoshi Flower)” is surprisingly catchy, presenting listeners with a track far more fun & lighthearted than any of his prior mixes, giving Quinn’s admittedly problematic vocal stylings room to breathe in a soundscape of uplifting melodies now that he isn’t taking himself so damned seriously. The happy-go-lucky bounce of his vocals feel rather soothing over the bombastic high-school marching band aesthetic of the underlying percussion rhythms & bold symphonic instrumentation, the brittle saxophone blasts & brassy horn flares evoking that innocent innocently childlike energy you’d typically find in the UK-borne Pop tracks of the early-noughties; Y’know, like the geeky vibe of Lily Allen’s “Alfie” & “Smile,” the Indie Pop jubilance of Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma” or some Regina Spektor bullshit – Does that mean it’s as cool & sleek as the inventive arrangements today’s Tumblr-chic Popstars try to be? Nah, not at all, but that actually serves to make this track & several others on the album all the more endearing, as Quinn’s catering to the sort of mainstream Radio Pop audience that’s woefully underrepresented these days, preying on the sonically-aloof listener who just want to have a good time with some unassuming beats rather than assaulting their ears with a dose of overwhelmingly depressing emotional content like his contemporaries often do. If nothing else, I think that deserves some credit, as Quinn XCII is providing a service for listeners that’ve been left behind by the fast-paced evolution of the modern Pop industry, even if it does sound like the embarrassingly kitschy stuff a group like Train would’ve produced back in 2009.

A Sound For Every Audience

Maybe I just get bitter whenever I hear white people singing in an Irie accent over predictably jolly chord progressions, as it feels so incredibly wrong to my ears when I know these fake-positivity guys are just kickin’ back in Santa Monica talkin’ about surfboards & good vibes whilst micro-dosing on acid & perpetuating unhealthy standards for today’s burnouts, but if you can look past that whole aesthetic – which is on full display in songs like “Tough (feat. Noah Kahan)” or “When I Die” – then there’re undoubtedly a handful of elements on From Michigan With Love that carry some real merit – For example, “Matches” utilizes some absolutely chilling electronic sequencing that feels like a worthy current-gen iteration of the late-noughties Indie Pop scene, packed full of beautifully-recorded multi-level vocal harmonies & soothing narratives over some pretty bold synth beats while others like “Sad Still” employ some seriously frenetic lyricism that shows the true songwriting skill of Quinn, fusing rhythmic techniques from Juke music alongside the more laidback sounds of Tropical Pop to create an astonishingly captivating composition with tons of sonic contrast between its melodies, allowing his personality to shine through effortless flows; Even “Right Where You Should Be (feat. Ashe & Louis Futon)” hits the spot for me, creating a vast dreamscape of electronic reveries & ethereal feminine vocal lines that rocket you straight up to the stratosphere, giving you a moment to mull over your emotions from a higher state of being whilst enjoying a spiritually-fulfilling melodic arrangement that’s ever-so-slightly soulful, much in the way Florence + The Machine once lit you up from the inside when she first hit the scene – I guess what I’m trying to say is, Quinn XCII definitely isn’t my cup of tea in any regard, but when you’re able to get someone as judgmental as I to look past my prejudices for a second, even I can find something truly inspiring to jam to within From Michigan With Love; If that’s not an accomplishment in its own right, well then what the hell’s the point in being a musician in the first place, right?

2. Track List (12)

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  • Quinn XCII