(Cover photo by Lancer Casem; show photos by Broccoli)
On Thursday night, Judson Branam (also known as Cheer Captain) invited friends and collaborators to his home for a first-listen of his brand new EP, Retaliation. While he’s known around town for his collaborations with other artists, including Assemble Sound staple Flint Eastwood, Retaliation marks his debut under the Cheer Captain moniker. The project presents a pop-infused if somber reflection on the more complicated sides of romance and, by extension, relationships in general.
The room was filled with people eager to hear the project; the crowd included some of Detroit music’s finest from behind the mic and beyond. With a quality sampling of listeners with various involvements in music, the space was an appropriately welcoming place to introduce Retaliation to the world
The session started off with “You Lost Me,” a track centered around the inconvenient tendency for appreciation to follow absence. Cheer Captain made a point to give a brief intro before each song, adding details and nuances that would be lost in a straight-listen. A humble brag assured the crowd that this was all him; he created, produced, and mixed the whole project. But the statement was more impressive than self-congratulatory, which was supported by his request for honest feedback following the session.
“Hard to Believe” was a slight change in vibe that let the vocal melodies drive the song, with quick, choppy drums that broke up heavier bass sections. It was during this song that I noticed how many people were eyes-closed, thoughtfully taking in the music, despite the house-party nature of the event.
“Mood Ring” could be considered a sort of mix of the previous two tracks, showcasing a more rapid vocal delivery that bordered on rapping at times. After a brief mention of the project’s accessibility (it’s only 15 minutes long, making it digestible for even family members who might be less musically-inclined), followed by a veiled shout out to Vulfpeck’s Sleepify phenomenon, he went right into the title track “Retaliation.”
The song’s echoing, cavernous presence made it an apt vessel for the project’s namesake, with all of its ambiguities. Understandings are elusive when facts meet feelings, a theme that manifested itself in lines like, “I don’t have to have a reason why.”
After a round of applause, the set was briefly extended due to insistent requests from the crowd for another track that doesn’t appear on the project. With hints of EDM sensibilities in an otherwise light and deliberately sparse song, the encore served as a taste of what *might* be to come from this promising new persona in Detroit music. If Retaliation is any indication, I’m looking forward to it.
Listen to Retaliation wherever you get your music from here.