Von Economo’s Debut Delivers Bite-Sized Morsels of Hook-Laden Art Rock

click to enlarge Von Economo’s Debut Delivers Bite-Sized Morsels of Hook-Laden Art Rock
Von Economo
San Antonio musician Von Economo had planned a June 20 performance to unveil her eponymous debut album — a gig that would have marked her first live show as a solo artist and provided the big reveal for an identity she’s so far kept hidden.

Needless to say, the pandemic cancelled the performance.

Even so, Von Economo seems to be fine with having more time to maintain her anonymity. During a recent phone call with the Current, she kept personal details sparse — namely, that she’s a visual artist when not recording and that the new album marks a return to music after performing in Midwestern bands years ago.

“At this point, with the pandemic in full effect, that makes me strictly a recording artist,” she said. “But who says you can’t just be a recording artist?”

It may be a while before we can experience Von Economo live, but her newly released 12-song album, produced by Buttercup and Demitasse guitarist Joe Reyes, makes a welcome addition to the city’s art rock landscape — and warrants the multiple listens it may take to unravel.

At times, Von Economo’s clear — and delightfully detached — vocal delivery and strummed 12-string guitar evoke early Bowie, as do the stately nature of the songs’ hooks. But instrumental embellishments such as the slightly out-of-tune piano chords opening “Moondust” and the lazy wash of slide guitar work on “Violet” give the compositions a shifting, ethereal quality all their own.

“What if we were wrong about everything?” she sings, opening the album’s first single, “I, Organism,” before pledging — as said life form — “not to believe, not to deceive.” Nods to science pop up several more times in the lyrics, as do broad ruminations about human nature.

It should come as little surprise then that the singer took her name from a type of neuron that appears in the brains of humans, great apes and elephants. The choice suggests an interest not just in biology, but in what makes us human.

While the album’s heady subject matter and experimental trappings could be read as warning signs for self-indulgence, not so. The songs’ conventional structures and memorable choruses make for an accessible experience, as do their brevity. The longest clocks in at just 3:40 and several end shy of the two-minute mark.

Taken as a complete work, Von Economo’s debut shows the kind of creativity and songcraft that can snowball into a cult following — regardless of when the artist is finally able to step onstage.

The album is available via voneconomo.bandcamp.com as a digital download or a cassette-shaped USB drive. A vinyl version is in the works through Buttercup’s Bedlamb Records imprint.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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