Two years on from the release of his sixth studio album, Sometimes I Just Don’t Know in 2019, Filipino-Australian artist Bryan Estepa returns with another exciting set of soulful and melodic guitar pop. Released under Lilystars Records, Estepa’s new EP, Back To The Middle grows closer to home with its penchant for warm, inviting hooks and sunburst instrumentation.
Lyrically speaking, there is no set thematic agenda when the acclaimed singer-songwriter conceptualized and penned Back To The Middle. In an authentic troubadour fashion, Estepa lets the song take him to where it wants to go most of the time. “But by the end I did notice a leaning towards the idea of letting go and acceptance,” Estepa shares in a statement. “Life throws us curveballs that we may not want or see coming, but then we ask ourselves how do we deal with them? There’s always a slither of light ahead.”
While his previous record, Sometimes I Just Don’t Know exhibited a more melancholic, brooding treatment, Estepa’s six-song EP essentially gravitates on a balance between light and shade, with songs whose bright sparks pop up. Expanding his sonic palette with power pop choruses and irresistible exuberance, Back To The Middle sounds brighter and jumpier than he’s never sounded before, and is buoyed with a renewed sense of energy.
The new EP includes the weightlessly effervescent ‘Trick Of The Light,’ which NME praised for “evoking classic pop harmonies and alt-rock unease” and the ‘90s alt-rocker ‘Admit Now, Pay Later,’ which garnered approval from Rolling Stone Australia for heralding “a change in his own approach to songwriting.”
The title track ‘Back To The Middle’ is particularly interesting in a way that it evokes a different kind of joy and feel-good melody on a resonant level. “To me, it’s a good little upbeat pop tune that has all the hallmarks that I like in a song – a good hook, catchy harmonies and jangly guitars,” Estepa explains.
‘Everything You Wanted’ changes gear with its wistful Americana-leaning power pop vista, while ‘Little White Lie’ reveals itself to be a kaleidoscopic beauty of a tune that allows Estepa to experiment with keys, synth horns, baroque pop flourishes and artful backing harmonies. Rounding out the release is a lilting cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Threw It All Away,’ from the 1969 album, Nashville Skyline.
Back To The Middle was recorded during the pandemic period, and was a product of Bryan Estepa’s eagerness to connect with people again, at least on a musical level. Needing to scratch a niggling creative itch, he got together with multi-ARIA and APRA award-winning Australian songwriter Josh Pyke, who helped shape the record with richness and timelessness embedded in its layers.
According to Estepa, what makes the record a clear cut above the rest is how he gave way to Josh Pyke’s production ideas and allowed the award-winning producer’s creative spin to add magic to these songs. “It felt really good to let Josh Pyke take control of production duties from the moment I handed over a bunch of my demos to him,” the pop-rock artist admits. “I have normally come to the studio very much prepared with production and overall sound ideas. But we approached this differently in that we built each song over the day and sometimes even finished writing them together just before we hit record, like on ‘Everything you wanted’. It was exciting watching the songs unveil themselves as we were trying new arrangements, going with weird instrument choices and not being afraid to try anything that will make the song distinct in its own way.”