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Genesis Owusu
STRUGGLER Zara Hedderman , August 18th, 2023 07:38

A multi-faceted follow-up to the much-touted Smiling with No Teeth proves a record of thrilling contrasts, for Zara Hedderman

“Stamp me down but a Roach keeps Roaching,” asserts Genesis Owusu on ‘Leaving The Light’ the opening song of his much anticipated second album, STRUGGLER. The roach is a recurring emblem throughout these eleven electrifying and ambitious tracks. This is further explored on the equally intense ‘The Roach’: “I’m a roach, don’t knock me on my back / Legs in the air, hope God don’t attack,” he intones. His parting words on the song hear him in a far more defiant position as he announces, “For the pests I’m the great commander / Fear The Roach / Love The Roach.”

This resilience works both to articulate how he overcomes struggle (hence the album title) and demonstrate a lighter side to his personality, too. In its character, STRUGGLER is remarkably deft in all of its moving parts; production, performance, palette and his perspectives. His debut, Smiling with No Teeth was met with much acclaim and announced the Ghanaian-Australian as an artist of immense power and individuality. Once again, Genesis Owusu, born Kofi Owusu-Ansah, demonstrates a wealth of ideas in his latest offering, but perhaps what is most impressive is his comfort within a myriad of musical styles spanning smooth 1970s-infused funk and soul and agitated electro-indie arrangements. Regardless of the tone and tempo, the confidence in Owusu’s cadence at each turn is elemental to STRUGGLER’s magnetism.

In the opening moments of the album, on which Genesis Owusu establishes the dark undercurrent of his lyrics, the searing guitar riffs and pulsing beats coupled with his impassioned delivery often conjure a similar energy to how Kele Okereke heightened the urgency in Bloc Party’s material. It’s not surprising that Owusu has joined Bloc Party and Paramore on the U.S. leg of their tour given the prominence of the former’s influence on ‘Leaving The Light’, ‘The Roach’ (which also contains elements of Yves Tumor’s flair of electro-pop) and ‘Freak Boy’, amongst others. At times, the likeness is distracting. Fortunately, the dynamic nature that distinguishes STRUGGLER, not to mention Genesis Owusu’s engaging lyricism, does enough to reinstate his artistic skill.

The production across these eleven songs is more than commendable, especially given the breadth of moods, genres and eras Owusu set out to include. It’s not everyday that you find an album that can seamlessly transition from claustrophobically layered, gritty rock-tinged arrangements on which the artist will alert audiences in his stark articulation the adversity and chaos plaguing modern society (“Tryna find the drive but I got a slashed tire / Everyday I wake up boy I’m battling Goliath / Flowers in the fist, still can’t avoid violence,” on ‘The Old Man’) and wryly flavouring his disdain on a track buoyed by exuberant disco motifs as heard on ‘That’s Life (A Swamp)’ when he sings, “My arms are tired from carrying the weight of your shit”. The Bloc Party likeness is prevalent, yes, but there are also echoes of Prince, Thundercat, even traces of Adam & The Ants underpinning Genesis Owusu’s dynamic sound.

Tonally, the balance between the contrasting musical styles is imperative to STRUGGLER’s allure. The bright glimmers of Rhodes notes twinkling on the aforementioned ‘That’s Life (A Swamp)’ and the languid instrumentation of ‘See Ya There’, where the contrast strikes even harder, with the threatening refrain of “You’re going to hell / I’ll see you there” against the otherwise soothing arrangement, proving crucial in preventing the listener from thinking that they have Genesis Owusu’s artistry summed up. Furthermore, these slumberous 1970s arrangements are where we find the undeniable highlights of the LP. There’s a lot to unpack across STRUGGLER. The demands it places on listeners to fully connect with the material are more than warranted.