F.Stokes has been a resident of Chicago and New York City, yet finds and now calls home the, in relative terms, hamlet of Madison, Wisconsin. To see how the city embraces the man is testament to his ability to encourage and support those around him. Stokes has been hanging a bit low in the recording realm since 2009’s Death of a Handsome Bride, giving 2010 a collaborative mixtape with fellow Madisonites Dirty Disco Kidz. While we wait for a new studio album, Stokes is giving us his new EP Love, Always.
There’s two welcome core elements to Stokes’ work; spoken word and being inspirational. “Aspire & Inspire” encapsulates both as the introduction, mirroring “Too” off the last album. Contrary to “Too,” the former lacks the edge, the condemnation, aligning to a feeling just to seek improvement and encouragement instead of the all-too-easy labeling of what’s wrong with society. It’s refreshing, and truly lightens up the EP with the other complementary end being “My Simple” sandwiching the rest in between. Jumping to that ending track that was released a short time ago, the homage to embracing the basics is that anti-New York, anti-Chicago, anti-metropolis anthem that roots for the undermentioned underdogs. Fuzzed synth keys with a slight rock emphasis are all that matter given the memorably addictive chorus, “I used to dream that I would leave one day in this local bar, drinking beer all day. I got a good job, so I might as well stay at the Wal-Mart right off the highway…”
What’s in between? Let’s turn the lights away from “Blessings,” which makes a reappearance and distracts from Love, Always. feeling entirely fresh. “Decades” switches from concert memory to recorded proof, and takes on a deep, surrounding PVC-pounding beat so expansive you can’t help but feel Stokes’ lyrics are the only thing filling those 4 1/2 minutes. “Love Warriors” shows improvement and growth, balancing a matter of fact, near spoken-word delivery over a Shades of Blue beat with saxes glowing throughout its lounge flow.
“Jackie Bodean” doesn’t leave much an impression. Chalk that up to “My Simple” and especially the midpoint track. “Beauty & The Beast” is a piano punctuated hit, transposing the fairy tale over life’s realities with its protagonists facing and accepting themselves with no embarrassment or shame (“It’s time to let the world know it.”). F.Stokes has topped “Soul Clap” and any of his previous work with this track. As a taste of what to expect later this year, Love, Always. closes chapters and successfully stirs earnest anticipation for his next full-length album. There’s growth here that was rooted in urban metropolises, but is percolating in the coffee houses of State Street and majestic marquees of Madison.