By Hannah Wisterman
Release Date: September 5, 2017
Corbin is back, and while he may not be all grown up, he’s certainly no kid anymore. The Minnesota native first went viral under the names Spooky Black and Lil Spook back in 2013 and 2014, then switched to his given name in 2015 to do an EP (Couch Potato) with Bobby Raps. Then, like the Avatar of alternative R&B, he vanished for two whole years, not just from making new music but from social media as well. He popped up every once in a while to do a gig, but other than those occasional live shows, it was complete radio silence until January of this year, when he dropped the track “destrooy” without warning on his Soundcloud, prompting waves and waves of demands for him to return. When he announced a tour with Shlohmo and D33J in June, buzz started to circulate: was the mystery kid finally coming back? In August, we got the answer, when Corbin announced the debut album of his new era.
Having listened to Corbin’s prior work as Spooky Black and then listening to Mourn, it’s clear why it took two years to get new material. Corbin needed time to grow up. One of the most notable impressions listeners get from the album is that Corbin, especially in working with producers Doc McKinney and his tour-mates Shlohmo and D33J, has learned how to give a song structure and backbone. He’s moved from hazy atmospheric jams to tracks with clarity. In songs like “Giving Up” and “No Title”, he does this by bringing drums more to the foreground, which rounds out the sound, as opposed to his Spooky Black-era work, where drums were usually masked in an ambient wash. In “Revenge Song” and “All Out”, he tries a new angle on synths that’s more in line with synthwave trends, which gives his music a little old school flair (in keeping with his old soul). It’s like Corbin is coming out from behind the curtain and proving that he can be as dynamic as he is moody.
Moodiness is something that Corbin has never lacked, and from the sound of Mourn, it’s something he will not run out of soon. Like many artists, it seems that everything he feels, he feels deeply, and he makes that clear right off the bat with opening track “ICE BOY”. “We just met girl, I know,” Corbin sings, before confessing his heartfelt affection; then, a minute later, “If you lose interest, leave me to die”. The lyrics set a standard for the rest of the album—why would Corbin feel anything if he didn’t feel it completely, enormously, exhaustively? Using this approach, Corbin outlines what Pitchfork calls “a loose narrative” about trying to outlive the apocalypse with a lover (the relationship with this lover is complicated in itself) but dying in a plane crash (“The Fold Up”) before the end-times come. It’s heavy stuff, but listeners wouldn’t expect anything less from such an emotionally turbulent musician.
At 19, you wouldn’t expect Corbin’s vocals to stand up to the task of such a story, but for the most part, he pulls it off, another trophy of his burgeoning maturity. In his Spooky Black years, Corbin hid his voice under distortion and shoegaze-y washes, but in Couch Potato, he had begun to cultivate fuller timbre and depth. It’s clear that he’s only built on that since. In tracks like “Mourn” (one of the songs most similar to his larger body of work) and “ICE BOY” his vocals stand up beautifully; in “No Title”, they allow him to explore a more melodic pattern than he has in the past; and in “Revenge Song”, he really pushes a signature rasp that provides serious edge. But it doesn’t always pan out. In the first half “Giving Up”, Corbin’s voice sounds a little lost; in “Something Safe”, it’s just a little messy. They’re kinks in an otherwise solid performance, so audiences might need to give Corbin some more time to get a grasp on them.
All in all, Mourn feels like the next natural step for Corbin. For those of us who have been following his path since Spooky Black, he still sounds definitively like himself, just grown up; a little wiser, a little stronger. It’s truly enjoyable to listen to, and even after several listens through, the beauty and charm of each song hasn’t worn out—a talent that Corbin has had since day one. There are weaknesses and room to grow, but if this is what Corbin makes at 19 years old, audiences should be beyond excited.