mikky-ekko[xrr rating=2.25/5]Who is Mikky Ekko? Born John Stephen Sudduth during the winter of 1984 in Louisiana, the singer/songwriter would eventually relocate to Nashville before gaining industry notoriety and respect for co-penning Rihanna’s 2013 single “Stay.” He would subsequently join the songstress onstage during the Grammys to perform the track live. Equipped with a voice that flows more freely than the Mississippi, Sudduth also has an eclectic ear for beat-smiths and has already worked alongside the likes of Clams Casino and Blood Diamonds and pointed to iconic minimal-techno producer Jon Hopkins as an inspiration. Ekko is also a prime example of label mismanagement. Having signed to RCA/Sony based on the success of his singles, Ekko is a moniker still lacking a discernable character. At fourteen tracks in length, a few manicured chart toppers within Ekko’s debut full-length effort Time serve as the Saccharin-sweet carrot to coax listeners through to the conclusion.

Despite his established credibility as a songwriter, over a dozen additional writers and producers were brought in to help finalize the work. Those additional hands were recruited from the R&B/hip hop realms (Benny Blanco, Jeff Bhasker and Stargate), indie rock (Dave Sitek and Fraser Smith), avant-garde hip-hop (Clams Casino), and radio-ready pop (Ryan Tedder and Noel Zancanella). Very few artists outside of Kanye West, Florence Welch and potentially Björk could orchestrate this many talents around a signature aesthetic; it’s unlikely Sudduth had much of an opportunity to actually share his unfiltered talents.

Too often, the result is a diluted version of his predecessor’s vibes. “Riot” arrives straight from the 90’s alt-rock dial, the Sitek-produced track moving between Radiohead-esque angst and a flailing Porno for Pyros energy. A charming sing-along thumper, “Smile” listens like a displaced single from a Glen Hansard EP. Sudduth then teases some ambient PBR&B during the sensual verses of “Pull Me Down.” It’s this cross section of tracks that distracts from Sudduth’s own ability to push the boundaries of contemporary pop music.

Sudduth has the ability to make massive genre leaps across one album; he just has to learn to keep control of the reigns. Although his vocals don’t hit with the same impact as some of his singer/songwriter peers (Justin Vernon, Damien Rice, Mount Eerie), the emotions from the album’s title track and “Mourning Doves” linger far after the splendor of his voice subsides. This is in great contrast to closing track “Pretend You Care” when Sudduth weaves his lyrics through what sounds like a Diplo-Pharrell collab. The latter ready for some club reworks.

Given the album’s hiccups, the celebratory lead single, “Watch Me Rise,” is comically ironic. Sudduth has all the potential to find his own path through the record industry; however, the team set up to assist in his trajectory has substantially miscalculated. Before the release of the album, it was revealed that these 14 singles were pulled from a collection of 250 tracks. Sometime during this lengthy process, Sudduth lost himself and the motivation to reinforce his own artistic language. It’s likely tens of millions will hear multiple singles pulled from this album over the next few months, but unless Sudduth defines his voice it’s unlikely that impact will remain as the next hit is fed to the masses.

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