Blake Lusk's experimental To Be Human is one of Oklahoma's most compelling releases of 2016 

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To Be Human defies clear categorization. It is at times sunny and chipper and others dark and menacing. It clearly draws from a wellspring of influences, and it is nonetheless stronger for it.

Blake Lusk, the bassist, vocalist and producer behind experimental band Shishio, kicked off the second half of the year with one of the most interesting and compelling local releases of 2016.

The project, which debuted July 5 via Tape Gun Records, has a runtime of more than 50 minutes, but the length is necessary to explore as many of the sounds as Lusk is able to touch.

To Be Human starts off with “Stones Throw,” an appropriately mixed set of auditory influences that sets the tone for what is to come.

The assisting guitar tandem of Henry Dillon and Tim Buchanan help build a trancelike dream world for the other sounds to play in.

This is a noise record, and to some people, that means heavy, dystopian walls of sound. To Be Human has moments like that, but it is overall an upbeat and tonally optimistic project, as this song reflects.

“Stones Throw” is a song meant to make listeners move. A synthetic and steady beep bop throughout the tune is instantly infectious.

That, paired with the song’s drum rhythm, gives it an almost jazz or funk feel. It’s a fun way to open an album.

Four songs deep into the project, which has a very energetic first few tracks, listeners get to “Weird Fires,” also known as the point in the album when Mom probably stopped listening.

It’s a mix of screechy, whiny chords and hand drums that eventually gives way to an outright electric jam. Lusk definitely toys with the sound here, and his tinkering pays off. One could point to this song and say he’s taking a risk, but Lusk is playing with house money.

It is obvious he caters his sound to a purpose higher than mass appeal.

The album has its more accessible moments as well.

The next track, “Swell,” is a great example. This is what strumming a guitar sounds like in space. There’s an accenting hint of anthemic grandeur and wonder behind the acoustic rhythm, like something one might find on the soundtrack of an IMAX movie.

“Guts,” toward the end of the album, is another easy-access song. It might also be the best musical offering in the collection.

The guitars mesh so well with the song’s other textures and the assisting vocals of Taylor Hale, who also contributes percussion on the track.

Another standout is “Satellite.” The song gets progressively louder, eventually drowning out Lusk’s stretched-out vocals. Vocal clarity is sometimes an issue on To Be Human, but in this song, it is clearly an intended effect. This is also not one of those records on which that kind of clarity is a priority.

Listeners get more meaning from the sounds and how they make them feel on a personal level.

This is not the kind of album that can be recommended to just anyone. The unorthodox isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that is unfortunate because Lusk’s offering is indeed worthwhile.

For the open-minded, this is a project that can be enjoyed equally as the backdrop to day-to-day life or as a subject of intent study and dissection.

To Be Human takes chances and makes mistakes.

But missteps here are not caused by ignorance or a lack of care. They are natural bumps in a free-ranging pursuit of the beautiful, a word that in no way is synonymous with perfect or ideal, as the world continually shows us.

To err, after all, is human.

Find To Be Human online at

Print headline: Rare beauty, Blake Lusk challenges musical convention on his noisy new release To Be Human.

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