One of the pitfalls a solo performer can encounter when releasing a full-length album written, performed, and recorded by themselves is obsessively individualizing each track to the point they create a work that sounds less like a cohesive concept and more like a collection of unrelated songs. Fortunately, this isn’t Mike Adams’ first rodeo. On Casino Drone, his third proper LP as Mike Adams At His Honest Weight, the Indiana native avoids the aforementioned danger by smartly linking these eleven dreamy pop songs using ethereal keyboards to introduce each, thereby resetting the listener’s ear from track to track.
With its slightly warped chords and spacey synths, “Bronze World” opens the album, starting things off with a distinctly dream pop vibe. After a short detour with the moody “Hobart, Chuck Manson and Jim”, Casino Drone’s catchiest and finest moment, “The Lucky One”, presents itself. A lead guitar stretches and sustains a wonderful riff just under the song’s pleasant verses and soaring choruses. Some tracks on Casino Drone are more successful than others in conveying the intended mood. The ballad “Stainless Still” has a lovely, optimistic-sounding, recurring guitar solo, but it contrasts the song’s heartbreaking chorus that has Mike woefully singing, “I’m fine.” Similarly, the idiosyncratic “Frozen Car”, with its reverb-soaked ride cymbals floating through, meanders to the point where even Adams’ capable vocals can’t keep it grounded.
Utilizing a singing voice that’s at times reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard over traditional pop/rock instrumentation, Mike Adams’ songs on Casino Drone range from experimental ballads (the aforementioned “Frozen Car”) to driving rockers (“Diem Be”). Mike has an obvious sense of humor as evidenced through the talk show he hosts as well as his various comical music videos and infomercial parodies. However, those familiar with The Mike Adams Show expecting witty tongue-in-cheek lyrics may be disappointed. The songwriting on Casino Drone is at times painfully sincere and moving. The record’s penultimate ballad, “Keep My Heart Alive”, has Adams wistfully repeating, “No amount of luck can keep my heart alive.”
Casino Drone is concluded with the epic, “Ideas Man”. The first half of the track is spent setting the table. Pitch-bending sine waves swim through as a thick bed of threatening distortion drones underneath. The distortion comes to the surface just as a drum kit falls into the mix, and a guitar begins to chug pleasantly along to the newly introduced rhythm. Rather than concluding things in an unnaturally, overly hopeful way given the context of the album as a whole, Adams instead chooses to close the record out with tepidly optimistic lyrics like, “Caught my hands reaching for something, something I don’t want, no I don’t, I don’t.”
While not perfect, Mike Adams At His Honest Weight successfully avoid delivering a potentially jarring collection by continuously cleansing the listener’s palette throughout. Some of the songs don’t reveal themselves immediately, and even after multiple listens a few tracks never fully connect. What’s more important is that the majority of songs here work well enough together to create a feeling and tone that makes Casino Drone an overall thoughtful and enjoyable album.