Electro/instrumental artist James Freeman may be fairly new to the publishing business, but he’s put out an impressive number of releases since creating the “flexible musical entity” called Gem FM. As of 2021, he has released four full albums and a few singles under the name. With a blues guitar base and a ratatat-like compositional style that fuses analogue and digital sounds, his new Sonic Boom album shows how he’s amplifying the electronic aspect of his style, with some interesting results.
During the production of the new album, my studio monitoring situation received a significant technical upgrade. This helped tremendously in fine-tuning my engineering and mastering efforts. I think Sonic Boom represents my best work to date in terms of my mixing and engineering. Despite this, I recognize that there will always be room for improvement.
This update is evident not only in the improved electronic production quality of the work on Sonic Boom, but also in the creativity of the songwriting and the incorporation of more dance elements than Gem FM’s previous work. This album goes well beyond a beat paired with a guitar, and Freeman says what was originally intended as an EP became a full concept album, inspired by vintage 808 style and EDM.
With track names like “SwagR,” “4banger,” and “Slide on Down,” Freeman certainly nailed EDM lingo. Listeners expecting some sort of punishing dubstep beat will need to broaden their notions of a ‘banger’ fairly quickly as we’re still very much in fusion territory. The electronic composition on most tracks, while more prevalent than previous iterations of Gem FM’s sound, is still present to emphasize the instrumentals.
On “4banger,” for example, an ’80s synthpop beat and new wave harmonies serve as the driving force for a soaring panpipe line that flutters through the staff, also accented with electronic manipulations. ‘Serrated’ on the other hand has a kind of tropical beat with a digital synth of a sitar played like a classic Beethoven piano and the album close ‘Slide on Down’ has a sort of Zappa-like mayhem that captures a great sense of musical play. Talk about fusion.
Sonic Boom is the first album not to feature Freeman’s signature blues guitar in a meaningful way, and it shows the artist stepping out of his comfort zone. With this album it’s clear that Freemand as Gem FM is poised to experiment even more with sounds and considering how diverse his work already is, ‘flexible musical entity’ is indeed the right description for this project.
Sonic Boom is not out yet and is available to stream on Spotify and Soundcloud along with the rest of Gem FM’s discography.