Justin Hogan is perhaps best known locally as “Rev,” the multi-instrumentalist behind neo-soul and hip-hop band Bowlsey. As he steps away for solo EP czarlite.tsarbright. under the name hogunZEROs, Hogan proves not only his talent, but great musical range.
Those going in expecting to hear a Bowlsey instrumental or beat tape might be initially disappointed, but not for long, as the seven-song, 24-minute EP’s frozen dreamscape of alternative rock pleases right away and maintains a consistent and cohesive quality to the end.
On czarlite.tsarbright., Hogan is running from something. Opening track “Czarlite” paints a picture of an imposing Russian tsar figure on the hunt for prison camp escapees.
On the intro and throughout the project, Hogan’s lyrics are poetically cryptic and leave a lot for fans to decipher and mull over.
Fortunately (and to the songwriter’s credit), the lyrics are posted on his Bandcamp for even more intense analysis.
“Czarlite” fades away into the second song, “Elaborate Skeleton Noise (ego without wings).”
This is one of the stronger songs on the project. Hogan’s soft vocals blend in well with a pretty sturdy wall of amped guitar and drums.
There’s a dreamy, shoegaze vibe to this song and many of the others in this collection.
The EP has a dark tone to it overall, one enhanced by some atmospheric noise and occasional subtle, eerie echoing.
At the same time, it’s a fairly upbeat listen. Perhaps the most impressive thing about czarlite is that it maintains a consistent sound even as it explores some distinctive ideas.
Things really clear up from a dreamy murk on more chipper “From Out of Space,” sure to be a favorite jam for many listeners.
One of the good things about the EP is that it keeps a general edge even while diving into some dreamy psychedelia. It’s truly an engaging listen.
The album is reminiscent of The Nutcracker in some ways. It sounds dark and feels cold. It’s definitely a winter listen.
Hogan ventures back into darkness on one of czarlite’s eerier tracks, “Shadows Turn Pale.” There seems to be a general theme of a neverending run from dread or anxiety in the project.
Hogan sings about how the light from his phone never lets shadows turn pale. There’s always something — be it a menacing tsar or guilt from a past indiscretion — that’s forever on your heels.
“Chase Scene through a Snowy Forest and on to a Frozen Lake/Pillow of Years (Above Me)” is by far the longest song title on the EP; the seven-minute song is also the highest reaching. The “Chase Scene” half is a long, entrancing instrumental intro that gives way to some of the EP’s most visually strong and evocative writing.
After two-minute track “Thin Air,” the album wraps up with “Tsarbright,” assumedly the flipside to “Czarlite.” It’s the climactic ending that the previous songs deserve.
Hogan leaves listeners with words that should dwell on their minds for a while: “The tsar and all his men have gone away / so tonight we’ll celebrate a murdering.”
Bowlsey plans on releasing a full-length album to follow its 2015 EP Elder sometime in 2017. If that last release is any indicator, the new album is unlikely to sound much like Hogan’s debut solo EP. Yet Rev is clearly hitting some kind of musical stride, and czarlite might well be a sign that a sonically ambitious record from Bowlsey is on the horizon.
Print headline: Winter wonder, Bowlsey’s Justin ‘Rev’ Hogan take a break from neo-soul for cold and dreamy czarlite.tsarbright.