The debut EP from the Pablo Alvarez project Good Bison is titled Scattered Storms, but a more accurate name for it might be Not-So-Scattered Sunshine. The oddly resolute and self-assured four-track outing might dwell in the angst and goings-on of an aspiring 20-something cutting their musical milk-teeth but the music is defiantly clear-eyed and almost continuously upbeat. Even when Alvarez, an acoustic guitar-slinging frontman from LA by way of Miami and Bogota, is singing or rapping about disconnection or debauchery, the guitars behind him are lazing about in some Caribbean vista. With touches of reggae upstrokes and even Tropicalia, the record is positively sun-splashed, lending Alvarez’s various crises and neuroses – there are a few on display, to great effect – a slight touch of irony, even satire. After all, California might be destined to fall into right the sea but at least the weather’s nice.
The self-released EP kicks off with single “Can’t Predict the Weather”, where Alvarez’s off-handed rhymes and sometimes flippant cadence calls to mind the Beck of Mellow Gold. That’s not a parallel or a gauntlet that’s thrown down lightly and Alvarez seems to know it. Though his flow is admirable, it’s clearly schooled in appearing, above all else, casual. Yes, Alvarez has a Guinness Book of World Records nod for longest televised freestyle rap, but he still likes you to think that he can cut between half-whispered sing-song and more staccato rhythms without breaking a sweat. On closer listen, “Can’t Predict the Weather”, which is a gem on headphones, also does wondrous little tricks with multi-tracking – at one point incorporating quite a few versions of Alvarez as he/they unfurl key phrases and phrasings.
But the record, oddly enough, is no one-trick pony. “Black Garlic”, with its soulful delivery on acoustic and bass, is a sincere and emotive little nugget about young love and loss, complete with a driving second half. “Lunatic”, the EP’s shortest take at 1:49, could be a Sublime or Long Beach Dub All Stars demo, a little stripped down but still chugging away with all the charge of a larger outfit. The autobiographical “Since I Left Miami” has one of the better grooves of the EP and a solid backbeat to match, with a great hip-hop breakdown about trying to snatch more breath from death.
There are some naysayers who might call Alvarez’s methods a little generic. For a generation raised on Marshall Mathers and Weezer, there’s surely plenty of laid-back indie pop with spoken leads or rapping out there. Alvarez’s challenge from here on out will be in building on his sound or taking his aspirations to the next level. Only time will tell if Good Bison has a solid debut LP in it or whether Alvarez will slink back to Miami. Then again, this kid’s living the dream in LA and sharing the narrative; I’d bet on the good weather. — Justin Vellucci, Pop Matters, Feb. 8, 2021