By and large, 2020 has been a tough year for up-and-coming musicians. With venues shuttered, live music is no longer a strong creative outlet or the driving force behind building a fanbase for these artists. The natural alternative, releasing new recorded music, is also problematic. COVID-19 has created a whole host of roadblocks for the recording industry, from safety concerns related to working in the close confines of studios to the cratering of economies that once fed their business.
Breaking out has never seemed harder. But for enterprising artists like Bryson the Alien, this environment has presented some opportunities. On his new EP “Keyboard Kid vs. Bryson The Alien" the Portland rapper proves that the music industry has flattened, collaboration has never been easier and technology can bridge almost any gap.
This is the new DIY.
The new five-song release is a collaboration with Seattle-based producer and beatmaker Keyboard Kid, with notable features from emcees Lil B and Fat Tony who both live in Southern California. Surprisingly, Bryson didn’t know any of them well before the pandemic hit. He still hasn’t met them in-person.
“It has been a blessing in that [respect],” said the rapper about the increased remote collaboration among musicians in the wake of the pandemic.
Without that development, he’s not entirely sure he’d be getting some of those opportunities. “Who knows if I would have been able to slow these people down long enough for them to check their email.”
That newfound accessibility is a boon for hungry young musicians like Bryson. That being said, recording and producing remotely and entirely at home has taken some getting used to.
“There’s nothing like putting someone in the room and playing the record right there for them to hear instead of sending them a file,” said Bryson. "It’s definitely weirder. I think a lot of bigger artists are maybe used to sending things over [the internet] all the time. But I’m really used to being in the studio with someone.”
Despite that physical distance between the musicians, the recordings on “Keyboard Kid vs. Bryson The Alien” clearly do not suffer. The beats and vocals are beautifully mixed by Bryson’s longtime collaborator Alfa, who also produced one of the songs. The result is a collection of textured and incredibly chill tracks that almost melt into the background.
That’s not a slight. According to Bryson, his goal was to create music that a listener can play while “working, walking the dogs or having it on while you’re cooking. That’s my challenge — making something that you can learn and grow from, but also is not too harsh."
“This isn’t System of A Down,” he quipped, referencing the famously manic metal band. "It’s not really in your face.”
But that doesn’t mean the songs lack substance. Although video games and sci-fi references are peppered throughout lyrics, “Keyboard Kid vs. Bryson The Alien” hints at a far more serious turn for Bryson. “Plug” encourages people to set aside petty differences during this time of hyper-polarization in favor of action on things like climate change, and “The Way” is an anthem that seeks to destigmatize sex workers.
"I want to make sure I say something of substance now more than ever,” said Bryson.
And he’ll have that chance next year when he plans to release a full-length record. According to the musician, he plans to tackle topics like prison reform, education, women’s rights, social justice and, after a short pause, he added with a smile: “random video game facts.”
“Keyboard Kid vs. Bryson The Alien” is out now via Sumalienz.