“The radius is the distance between the center point of a circle to its exterior. This record really is a description, a definition, a correlation — whatever you want to call it — between the center of me and my being, to my exterior.”
You’re broke. You’re broke and you’re one thousand miles away from home, living on cold pizza and yesterday’s leftovers. Sound familiar?
No, that was not just a recap of your time here at college. Three years ago, this was also Allen Stone’s reality. Born and raised in Chewelah, Washington, Stone had little idea of what awaited him when he began touring for his self-titled debut album back in 2012. As a preacher’s son, raised on gospel and inspired by Stevie Wonder, Stone began his musical journey by leading worship and playing the guitar at his church. Even on his most recent album, Radius, these spiritual roots are evident in the echoing response of a choir and strong backing piano, guitar and tambourines.
A self-diagnosed “hippie with soul,” Stone incorporates many elements of blues and R&B into his socially aware music. With a sound and a message similar to Marvin Gaye, Stone addresses many societal issues in various songs on both of his albums. Radius, however, focuses on modern discussions like race relations, privilege and a generational dependence on electronics.
“American Privilege” is a very self-conscious and self-aware ballad of privileged status, a topic that is very much at the forefront of current media. Stone examines the topic eloquently and satirically, singing “I don’t lose sleep for kids sewing my sheets / Or the ones stitching my sneaks / As long as I can buy ‘em both cheap.” Describing privilege as an “inherited sickness” and repeating the phrase “Bitch don’t kill my vibe” after every verse, Stone forces listeners to recognize the problems being perpetuated by blindly partaking in a broken system.
Nodding in the direction of R&B, funk and jazz, Stone uses a solid bass and layers sharp violins and electric guitars to create an amalgamation of sounds that takes the best of each genre and transforms it for a contemporary audience. Spurts of a cappella and an echoing gospel choir combine with a jaunty piano, resembling Stone’s religious background and soulful childhood.
“The Wire” is a stripped down version of Stone’s voice, yet, lyrically, it’s full of questions and criticisms of society. A quiet choir reflects in the background, tambourines rattle, and Stone inquires “Who wrote all of these laws? / When to spit and when to applaud? / What’s up Devil and what’s up God?” By removing additional instrumentals and focusing on the words, “The Wire” is exposed to its skeleton and laid bare, only to be built back up again by the swelling vocals asking unanswerable questions.
The second half of the album focuses on pure, unapologetic self-acceptance in the exposing “Where You’re At.” Steady, strumming guitar, heavy drums and light piano forge a relationship between the sweet “I ain’t no angel, but I ain’t so bad / And the best part of learning is just loving where you’re at,” and Stone’s odd country vibe. Contrastingly, “Symmetrical” takes on a psychedelic soulful rock role with synthetically produced vocals and strong violins behind a pulsating bass that mimics a heartbeat. But the unconventional lyrics are what truly drive the song forward and name the album as Stone sings “The radius of your heart / Multiplied by the girl you are / Divided by the man I can be / Equals perfect symmetry.”
Allen Stone is shaping his own sound among artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye with unique stylistic techniques and lyrics reflection on many societal issues. Despite his similarities to other artists, Radius stands on its own as a major step in the musical direction Stone wants to head in.