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Proper. – The Great American Novel (Review)

A concept album The Great American Novel, created by Brooklyn based band called ‘PROPER.’, is comprised of vocalist Erik Garlington (he/him), bassist Natasha Johnson (she/her) and drummer
Elijah Watson (he/they), is the kind of album that captivates the listener with a perfect balance of
introductory slow melodies clashed with heavy riffs with high-energy drumming. A powerful layer of meaning is expressed by hefty lyrics that tell stories of protagonists and their confessions of pain, truth and injustices faced as a BIPoC navigating life in predominantly privileged white societies.

The Great American Novel is indeed like an epic tale, each song a chapter that enthrals you into the deep
struggles and emotions of the protagonist. Every track is telling a different perspective although all have a similar undertone or plot that carries throughout the album, keeping you entwined in story, sounds and
feelings. It begins with “You good?”(prologue) And ends with “Yeah…Im Good”(epilogue) is a perfect
beginning an end to a sonic novel.

The album follows the narrative about the realisation of a person told at childhood, that they are gifted, then learn that they are deemed as dangerous as pre-teens because of the colour of their skin. The journey continues to the protagonist as a young adult experiencing different levels of injustice as a 20something. Each song in-between the prologue and epilogue is it’s own chapter in the novel which follows the vocalist highlighting the imbalances in pretty much all aspects of their life, in the form of lyrical and musical wit of story telling. The Album allows listeners can gain a deeper understanding into questioning identity, belonging and the premise of our fucked up societies, whilst permitting the audience to grow and be an intelligent scopophiliac into the Black experience in America.

As Garlington (vocalist) so eloquently states, “It all goes back to Black genius and how it’s ingested by the
predominantly cis-het, white male crowd. If they’re going to be a voyeur to the Black experience, I wanted to strip away all the cheeky song titles, lyrical inside jokes, and optimistic singalongs. I want them to hear this record and learn about our identity crises, our aimlessness”.

As a listener, you are captivated into musical artistry and guided in lyrical brilliance which takes you into the Band’s world, with use of their clever innuendo, drama and musical talent. The protagonist for the most part, is a queer Black Genius further explains how the classist, “Great” United States is systematically designed to make life so much more difficult for a Black person, you just don’t get a break. This could also resonate well with other nations oppressed by colonialism, and therefore, in that respect, the album’s meaning elevates to beyond America in which the elite in power, want to hold the power. As Vocalist Erik Garlington (he/him) says, “The album is about how Black genius, specifically my own, goes ignored, is relentlessly contested, or just gets completely snuffed out before it can flourish”.

The first song “You good?” Which is under two minutes brings forth an introduction, a sort of a
foreshadowment of the perfect balance of harmonious guitar and melancholic vocals that are thrown into
heavy gritty chords and hard percussions which then compliment and raise the undertones of anger for
injustice. As the melodies metamorphosis into heavier riffs, the vocals become harsher which encompass
the raw emotions of a life experience under pressure of the broken American dream.

The track “Red, White and Blue,” the lyrics “All I do, is cover for you, so you can beat me till I am Red,
White and Blue, no matter what you do I will crawl back to you…” This song comments on the image of
America sold to youngsters as a perfect nation, then later highlights the realisation of the imbalance of
America’s everyday citizens and the elite, as one gets older.

This album not only let me feel the raw truth of colonisation and the heartbreaks of immigration for a “better life”, it made me re-think and ponder and check myself and my own privilege even as a BIPoC being. One phrase from the song “Ganymede” lyric stuck with me, resounding in my head for days“ My body might actually belong to me, And not some palm oil monopoly, no waiting around for WW3, or another billionaire to tell me, I owe it god and country, to ship off and kill kids that look just like me”, these lyrics rekindled my beliefs and put my thought process back on track to be grounded and remember to be true, just and never forget how we are ruled by the elite, a modern world of subjugation.

Musically, the album allowed each band member to explore a new sonic territory by pushing themselves in
ways they have not before and taking past musical influences of genres such as post-hardcore and
progressive metal sounds, stemmed from Garlington’s adolescence.
“At the end of the day, what I wanted to do with this record is take Proper. in a direction that
would surprise people on first listen, but end up making complete sense on the second or third listen. I
think a lot of bands tend to go more pop but I wanted to make something both
challenging and undeniably catchy,” says Garlington.

The last song of The Great American Novel “Yeah…I’m Good”, is a track that concludes the novel as an
epilogue referencing a gifted child to grow up and face the realities of oppression and wonder when will the teachings of Dr. King help them stand stall, but depression settles in as the years go by, dreams were made and broken then put on display, for example this notion is catapulted by the lyrics ’Most days I’m just tying to own my composure, and it’s only getting worse as I get older, I learned early on the American way, it chewed me up, spit me out and left me on display”.

Therefore this album not only grows on you with each listen, it lets you discover a fresh new sound and
helps YOU grow, rethink and tap into the lives and experiences of Black Americans and deep emotional
insights into the band ‘PROPER.’.


photo by connorlaws

We’re happy to present Proper. with their new record at our upcoming show!
Here’s all the hard facts for you:

01 may 2022
Support: Shamaniacs (Psych-Rock from Berlin)
Doors: 6pm
Entree: 10-15 € (only at the door!)
Venue: Loge (Kinzigstr. 9, 10247 Berlin