There are several “household” names within the alternative music – or more appropriately, the “Warped Tour Scene” – and without much doubt, Craig Owens has found his way into that group. Hailing from Detroit, Craig fronted post-hardcore band Chiodos during their meteoric rise to Warped Tour Mainstage headliners prior to his surprising separation from the band in 2009. From there, he fronted the alternative super-group Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows (or as most know them, “D.R.U.G.S.”) during their one and only album cycle. D.R.U.G.S. peaked with a headlining slot on the huge Alternative Press Tour prior to a full-band split shortly thereafter. Surprisingly, after one album apart, Chiodos brought Craig back into the fold for 2014’s Devil, which cemented Chiodos as post-hardcore mainstays. And while Chiodos and D.R.U.G.S. are perhaps what Craig is best known for, they are far from his only musical ventures, which include stints in additional super-groups like the experimental rock band The Sound of Animals Fighting and the star-studded yet short-lived Isles & Glaciers. Additionally, Owens fronted Cinematic Sunrise, honed his skills as a producer, and released several intriguing solo projects, ensuring his fingerprint is all over the music scene. But, after almost two years of borderline silence sprinkled with the occasional solo acoustic tour, Craig announced the inevitable indefinite hiatus of Chiodos, coupled with his latest musical venture, the strangely titled “badXchannels.”
The debut of the first single, “one car funeral,” caught fans everywhere by surprise. It’s not post-hardcore, nor a rock song by any means. Craig’s soaring voice and huge hooks are present, but they dance over hip-hop beats and sparkling electronics. But is this surprise warranted? Craig has always stressed he grew up with hip-hop, and it still dominates his playlists today. In fact, Craig is a featured artist on the final Dr. Dre album, contributing to the track “One Shot Kill” with longtime friend and fellow Michigan native Jon Connor. With this in mind, it’s hard to believe a Craig Owens pop/hip-hop project wasn’t on the horizon, and with badXchannels, it’s finally here.
From the opening seconds of EP, entitled WHYDFML (What Have You Done for Me Lately?), opener and lead single, “one car funeral,” it is clear how incredibly far Craig has progressed vocally from the [whiny] “Baby, You Wouldn’t Last a Minute on the Creek” days. Sure, he sounds great on *D.R.U.G.S.* and *Devil,* but his performance here is the best of his career. “one car funeral” features synth lines and bass kicks that would catch the ear of most hip-hop heads, but ultimately the sound drifts farther towards Twenty One Pilots territory than it does modern rap. The pretentious lyricism found in the occasional Chiodos track has found its way into this project as well, but it fits a hip-hop beat much better than a guitar riff. In the context of the EP, however, “one car funeral” is a bit of an outlier. The heavy modern rap influence doesn’t dominate the following four songs, which can be a redeeming factor for longtime fans of Owens’ rock bands and acoustic releases.
The five-track EP continues with “You Know I Will,” a soulful song with subtle keys and punching programmed percussion. The aforementioned Jon Connor is brought in for a rapped verse near the end of the song but doesn’t add much to the track, which, at over five minutes in run time, perhaps slightly overstays its welcome. “dottedXlines” is likely the highlight of the EP, its verses swirling with a dreamy atmosphere coupled with a powerful chorus to rival even the best Chiodos hooks. “Complicated,” at first listen, can be likened to a The 1975 track, featuring melancholic synth textures creating a brooding aura that lasts encompasses the entire track. Fellow scene star Tyler Carter of Issues fame brings his signature R&B croons to the bridge, which adds further to the gloom. “Same Thing Everyday” begins in a rather similar fashion, but the calm breaks nicely for the explosive chorus, thus bringing the EP to a close on a high note.
The production throughout the EP is sharp and clear. Synth tones and percussion are mixed appropriately, and fittingly give Owens’ voice the spotlight. His best performances are to be found on the obvious single choice “dottedXlines” and the slow burn that is “Complicated.” Though not for lack of a solid vocal delivery nor poor production, “one car garage” sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb, as the verses pose a jarring contrast to the shining chorus. It is not a bad song by any means, but the over-emphasis on the modern hip-hop beats don’t mesh as well with Owens’ voice or the other four tracks, and thus it is conceivably the weakest track of the bunch.
Though just five songs, it is difficult to argue against the idea that WHYDFML is the best vocal performance of Craig Owens’ decorated career. He soars across the choruses and delivers softer melodies to compliment the textures of the lighter bits of the EP. WHYDFML allows him to showcase his improved vocals and production abilities, while introducing fans to the several directions he could take this project in. With badXchannels, Craig now has an outlet for several influences that wouldn’t fit his rock bands, namely hip-hop, R&B, soul and alternative pop a la Twenty One Pilots and The 1975. The close-minded may be quick to judge this as an attempt to jump on the alternative pop/hip-hop bandwagon, but Craig’s influences and interests prove this is simply not correct. The annoying, trendy branding aside, badXchannels presents yet another interesting musical venture in the career of Craig Owens. And while the musical formulas found within WHYDFML will likely cause the eyes of many a Chiodos fan to roll, badXchannels is simply well executed alternative pop music with an intriguing future.
Stream “dottedXlines” here:
WHYDFML is available via SharpTone Records on 11/18/16.