Experimental release culminates in vibrant, technicolor aesthetic
Los Angeles-based four-piece Chicano Batman put themselves on the radar with their 2017 release Freedom is Free, but it is their 2020 follow up, Invisible People, that defines their incomparable sound and aesthetic. Mixing psychedelic soul, funk, samba and seemingly a million other genres with rock beats and pop songwriting structure; this most recent release catalogs the modernization and evolution of the band.
Teaming up with award-winning engineer Shawn Everett and producer Leon Michels has proven to be a game-changing decision if the clear and polished sound of Invisible People is anything to go by. With the band and production team approaching the songs from new angles, this record was bound to push limits and be refreshingly experimental. Clocking in at just 39 minutes, these 12 tracks are vibrant and laced in neon colors. The music does work akin to world-building in that the sounds of the record are cohesive and packaged in a colorful aesthetic.
No song is more lively and worthy of its single status than the opener, “Color My Life.” Incredibly catchy with a strong funk foundation, this track is the best demonstration of Chicano Batman’s new and improved sound. It is an excellent example of not only what the rest of the record will sound like but where the band has the potential to go from here.
The other singles, “Blank Slate” and “Pink Elephant,” do similar work, leaning on pop and rock influence but without completely conforming. The masterful way the lead guitar and vocals pass the melodic line back and forth in “Blank Slate” is to be commended. It fills the space with sound rather than excessive lyricism. On the other hand, “Pink Elephant” exhibits far more vocal work, however, it is without a doubt some of the strongest lyricism on the record. Viscerally engaging lines like, “she’s the pink elephant in the room/ she’s a mercenary with perfume/ just like in the movies, she kills for fun/ decapitating heads like the shogun, yeah,” draw the listener in and keep them engrossed.
As focused and precise as the singles are, some of the deep cuts aren’t executed quite as proficiently. The title track, one with serious promise that includes gut-punching lines like, “invisible people/ the truth is we’re all the same/ the concept of race wasn’t planted inside your brain,” rambles on and deteriorates in the second half, losing all sense of urgency that drove the beginning.
“The Way” falls victim to this lack of focus as well. Where the previous tracks seem to have been written with pop songwriting technique in mind, this one appears to have next to no structure at all. Between the unnatural, disjointed pushing and pulling of tempo and simply too many unrelated lyrics, the song is almost too difficult to follow. It comes across as overly ambitious and experimental, falling short of the quality laid by the rest of the record.
The final stretch of Invisible People contains some of the strongest work on the album. “The Prophet” utilizes fuzz guitar and an irresistible hook, “I’m a prophet for profit,” to make it one of the release’s standouts for sure. In an ode to ’70s samba funk, “Bella” embraces both electric synths and the flute in a more successful musical experimentation than “The Way.”
The closer, “Wounds,” is Chicano Batman ending right in their sweet spot with a bittersweet, sad, melodic song. It simultaneously absolves the record’s earlier missteps and invites the listener back in for another round.
In blending so many different genres and still managing to paint such a vivid musical landscape, it is nearly impossible to pin down Chicano Batman and compare them to another modern artist. Despite a few fumbles, Invisible People is shaping up to be a success, one that will undoubtedly redefine the band’s signature sound and leave listeners wondering where they will dare to go next.