Almost two years to the day since his last release, Phillip-Michael Scales delivers a new album after dropping his nom de plume Briar Rabbit. That time has seen a lot of change for Scales. He left Chicago for the California sun in Los Angeles and started focusing on his craft more than ever. The result is a beautiful 5-song EP that feels as fresh and urgent as the first time I heard his voice in 2011. Melodies & Ghosts is an important record for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it allows Scales to stake his claim and take full ownership of his corner of the music world.
There’s a lot of amazing stuff going on here, but the two I want to talk about here really elevate the record. In less caring hands these opportunities may have been missed, but Scales took his time with these songs. At least one of them is more than a couple years old; I know because I’ve heard it live and sadly it’s been longer than that since I’ve seen him play.
The first thing is how the final line of the EP perfectly captures the meaning of the rest of the songs. “Oh God, if you’re there just know that everybody’s scared.” The song itself is a response to the prevailing notion that the murder of black Americans is ok or normal, it’s also about not letting that fear eat away at your soul. It’s about rising above and living your life: creating, loving, evolving without fear of judgement or ridicule.
The second thing, which will seem far less important, is the structure and phrasing on the song “Stay.” The tune almost feels like it would belong more in a staged musical. Scales’ voice eloquently delivers a heartfelt tale of romance in verses that don’t sound like your run-of-the-mill pop songs (sadly I think that Ed Sheeran employs the same style sometimes, but don’t ask me how I know that). It’s a really great piece that could only be written and performed by someone who really knows what they’re doing.
If you were a fan of Briar Rabbit, you’ll probably remember the song “Bricks,” which he posted a live video of back in 2013. The song fits right in with the other four here. I’ve always enjoyed that opening line, “I built you up in my head, so big you barely fit.” I’m not sure if I like the live version or this one better, but you can’t really go wrong either way.
For $5 you can own a copy of Melodies & Ghosts digitally. Just head over to the Bandcamp page (you can even try the whole thing out first to see how it feels).