by Hero Magnus
The genre-transcendent collective called Free Union just released a new song called “Somethin’.” The band is headed by vocalist Michael Coleman and drummer Rob Dunnenberger, with many other musicians featured on their first EP. If you haven’t heard them yet, you are in for an enormous treat.
Charlottesville-based Free Union describes their sound as something indescribable, a bit abstract. They want to represent not just one genre but the musical roots of each of the members, so the band happily traverses from r&b to pop, and doesn’t fit cleanly into any particular genre. Coleman hopes that “when you hear it, you won’t be able to keep from moving.”
Their multifaced nature is reflected in Free Union’s choice to call themselves a ‘collective’ rather than just a band. In this naming it seems like they further represent the band’s mission: to be a group of people unified, making music as people, not just for consumption.
Free Union is also a town in Virginia that used to be called Nicksville, after a famously free African American blacksmith. (Soon it was renamed Free Union as to not be confused with the nearby Nixville post office.) The town was interested primarily in “uniting people of all races at a time when the country was inherently divided.”
Free Union’s mission is related, and just as ambitious: they want to make the kind of undistilled music that unites people. This mission became urgently important this year, as the band said they struggled “to create, to connect, to define purpose, and even to find hope.” Out of this struggle came “Somethin'”, a song composed entirely in quarantine out of intense narratives & experiences.
Somehow, their new song “Somethin'” does just that, with a transfixing combination of bold & mellow. It clocks in at just about 2 and a half minutes, which is lovely because it leaves us aching for more. I’m impressed with the tightness of the song. The simplicity is mixed with cleverly meta lyrics: “It’s something that you can’t see,” sings frontman Michael Coleman, referencing hope and other abstract concepts.
The sparkly assortment of background instruments is brave enough to approach a near-clash in parts, but it never does, instead surrounding the listener in a menagerie of sound that is at once calm and captivating.
Cool mellowness in the song reminds me of Leon Bridges but a touch funkier, grounded by a simple but effective kick-snare. The luscious harmonies are also part of what I like so much about “Somethin'”: it isn’t overdone. There is trust in the mission and the The sonic bravery perhaps requires a comparison to Sly & the Family Stone, especially with the coolness of the vocals.
The chaotic mostly instrumental bridge is a lovely break from the sweet simplicity of the lyrics, which seems to be Free Union’s specialty: perfectly crafted phrases that express just what must be expressed and don’t gild the lily. “There’s a chance that we’re given / and I wanna know / it’s wasted two times too many,” sings frontman Michael Coleman.
“It Gets Better” was another gorgeous Free Union song that was showcased on the NPR World Café show, where radio hosts and writers commented on Coleman’s charisma. You can hear that same charisma in his voice on “Somethin’”. Free Union, like most good things, is more than the sum of its parts. The magic of “Somethin'” speaks to that, too. And my personal favorite of theirs is called “It’s a Good Day to Cry,” an anthem full of smooth dynamism.
Free Union said that they wanted to make a song to give back to their community after the difficulty of the past year, especially the police violence against peaceful protesters in the capital city of Richmond. Their funky new song does just that. Check out “Somethin’” below.
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