I know, I know… it’s 2022 already… and nearly half way through the year… but I wait until now to declare the best album of the year for 2021. Well, yes… that’s exactly true. Release in late 2021, December 10th to be precise, Ellis is the latest EP from Tim Husmann aka 1st Base Runner. Husmann is an Austin TX based alternative singer-songwriter whose influences range from 80s new wave to classic rock to Radiohead to Godspeed! and beyond. With a distinct electronic flavor, subdued yet emotive vocals, and an ear for infectious melodies, 1st Base Runner’s ellis is basically a perfectly crafted 5 song EP for fans of everything from Air to Tear for Fears to M83.
Each song has its own flavor, beginning with Ellis’s most upbeat track – “Near Me” – kicking things off. With that throwback 80s Britpop flair and the modern spin on new wave that was popularized by bands like LCD Soundsystem. The deeper vocal drone of Husmann lays on top of an electronic dance pop backdrop that at times feels not too dissimilar from classic something released by Joy Division in their heyday. Husmann’s music has a very cinematic flair, as discussed in his interview with me that was both released as a video on Cinapse and as a podcast on this site. And, here, it’s accompanied by a music video that highlights a unique visual style… a unique style we’ll see again with another music video for one of the the later tracks on the release.
After “Near Me”, the EP takes a turn towards more downtempo, though somewhat incrementally. As the second track is considerably less upbeat but remains pop oriented as its core. The song, entitled “Flux”, is probably this fan and critic’s favorite on the album. Again, there’s a distinct 80s new wave feel to the song. This time, however, the flavor feels less Joy Division and more When in Rome. Growing up a big fan of indie electronic artists Ronnie and Jason Martin (Joy Electric and Starflyer 59, respectively), there’s also a great deal in common with the way both of the Martin brothers construct their melodies and the way Husmann does – not necessarily in process, but clearly in final result. This track in particular reminds me of some of Ronnie’s slowed down songs where he opts to push the emotional heft of a song rather than the standard playfulness that many of his tracks highlighted. Jason’s early to mid era SF59 albums have a similar feel to what Husmann is doing here, as well. In other words, this song is on par with some of my favorite tracks from artists I grew up embracing, so there’s both an appreciation for the music and a familiarity that feels somewhat like a warm hug. Thus, it would come as no surprise that I have this song on numerous playlists and often play it more than once in a row.
“Numbers” – the 3rd track on Ellis – continues to slow it down, even from where “Flux” already has. It’s somewhere around between these two tracks that the remaining two remain, as far as tempo and feel, making “Near Me” the outlier on this EP. However, “Near Me” still feels of the same band and overall vision, just opting for a more upbeat launch to the EP – a decision this reviewer fully supports. The SF59 comparisons are still apropos as we examine this track, with a lead vocal that reminds me of another independent act I love called Ascend the Hill. While Ascend the Hill make distinctly faith based music, there a specific quality to the vocals here that remind me of their current lead singer Joel Davis. We keep that 80s new wave influence here, but truly find ourselves listening to one of the ballads of such acts, rather than the more pop oriented tracks.
As we hit the penultimate track on the 5 song odyssey, we hit another personal favorite, “WXW” – a song that blends the best things about bands like The Cure, 90s emo, and a drum beat that feels somewhat hip hop influenced. There’s surely still some 80s influence here, but the finished track feels more like a subdued Jimmy Eat World love song than it does a classic new wave track. Aging emo kids and punks like me are sure to appreciate this one… and the smooth drum beat feels like it’s rocking me into a relaxed state each and every time I listen. As an overstressed working adult and parent, a song that helps one relax is never a bad thing.
As we approach the EP’s finale, we’re treated to the other track with a stellar music video attached to it. With a sound distinctly influenced by Radiohead, some Duran Duran-esque flourishes, and, yet, still something all its own, it’s not hard to understand why this was chosen as the lead single and first music video from the release. “Man Overboard” is a unique and powerful song that closes out the EP with perfection. And the accompanying music video is stylish and hard to ignore. Starting the album out with the poppy and catchy “Near Me” then closing it with this powerhouse track really makes perfect sense. It’s a lesson in how to construct track order on a release. Everything flows logically and this is the logical conclusion.
Start to finish, this is nothing less than a stellar EP. In fact, it’s fair to say that this late 2021 release has become a soundtrack for my early 2022. And, music fans of all types should give it a try. I’ll bet many of you with latch on to the fantastic musicianship, songwriting, and tonal quality of this fantastic album.
Kudos to 1st Base Runner and hopefully much more great music is to come from this young musical genius with a cinematic flair.