An EP can be a risky endeavor for any musician. The shorter run time leaves little room for a filler track; the artist has to make their impression and showcase their style in the span of time it takes for some full-lengths to start stretching their legs. Of course, crafting a journey for the listener is a bit easier when their leader is a scene veteran with a wide array of releases to his name. And that’s exactly what makes Northern Kentucky resident Jimmy Snowden’s new EP, Mandarin, so enjoyable. (In his solo guise, Snowden is billed as simply “Jims.”)
Snowden is a member of Cincinnati-area acts like Smoke Signals… and Sweet Ray Laurel, and each of his projects places a spotlight on his myriad influences, from unpredictable Post Punk to acoustic-guitar-driven Indie Pop. Mandarin’s five tracks are undeniably Snowden’s design, each showing a fragment of his musical sensibilities. As a whole, they coalesce to provide a complete picture of the artist and his broad skill set. Snowden wrote, performed, and recorded the EP entirely on his own, and Mandarin bleeds Snowden’s individual playstyles as a result.
The first track, “Systems,” has an initially startling introduction. The track features vocal loops layered over downplayed percussion and acoustic guitar, which lead to a track that mixes unease and catchy melody in equal measure. It highlights Snowden’s more experimental qualities before allowing the rest of the EP to showcase his more traditional, Indie roots. It may not initially line up with the rest of the EP’s auditory aesthetic, but it’s an important track due to its insight into Snowden’s more forceful proclivities.
What follows are four tracks that thematically fall in line more evenly than what “Systems” initially hints at. “She’s Down” and “Hey Nola” feature driving guitar riffs and unconventional percussion set just under Snowden’s emotive singing voice. Snowden’s layering techniques are in full effect on each track. At times, it sounds like Snowden was running between instruments during recording to give each their own standout moment in the mix. The guitar is the star of the show, with Snowden crafting licks that enter your eardrum, weave into the folds of your brain and take up residence long after the disc has stopped spinning.
On the final tracks, “LOVE” and “ALONE,” Snowden takes his formula and makes subtle shifts to alter the mood and take the listener to a more introspective and thoughtful place. “LOVE” introduces keys at critical points of the song to create an almost mournful tone to the balance of guitar and upbeat percussion. Snowden carries the same feeling into “ALONE” by stripping away almost every layer that he had so carefully constructed on the previous tracks and focusing mainly on his vocals and guitar. What comes out on the other side is an artist laid bare. It’s a song that easily climbs beyond its self-imposed limitations and works as a suitably antithetical bookend with EP opener, “Systems.”
While Mandarin’s run time is a scant 14 minutes, Snowden is able to expose his listeners to the many elements of his musical style that enables him to be a part of so many disparate bands and be successful with all of them. Mandarin is a release that gives new listeners a fantastic introduction to Snowden’s skills. But for those of us who are already aware, it’s a solid reminder of his eclectic talents.