"We all skated in my neighborhood growing up, so we were absolutely crazy about Rocket Power."
It's not difficult to imagine Otto, Sam, Reggie, and Twister riding their boards to the beach while Ethan Healy's melodies drift through their headphones. His music follows the rise and fall of the summer sun and is best enjoyed in the presence of good friends.
The 24-year-old Memphis native moves through a laundry list of genre influences—many of which receive shout-outs on the newly released "Build" and range from boom bap to "Tennessee cook pop." He deftly melds dusty drums (courtesy of his go-to producers Public Library Commute and YOG$) with soulful vocal launches into higher octaves, often adding playfully enunciated hip-hop verses into the mix. When asked to recall the music of his childhood, he jumped from family dinners with Neil Young playing in the background to the colossal releases of Graduation and Tha Carter III. Scott Storch impacted what arrangements Healy prefers and Kings of Leon informed how he balances vox and guitar. Such a drag and drop approach suits him well in his pursuit to score June through August—a feat he first experienced in 2013 thanks to one of his inspirations, Chance The Rapper.
"I think Acid Rap’s honesty and overall lack of boundaries really affected me," he says of Chance's seminal mixtape. "It’s a really colorful project, and I base a lot of my music on color and mood. Acid Rap is a life bookmark for me too, cause I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I was listening to it for the first time. Chance kinda gave people a world to live in that summer, so I think that’s one way Subluxe was influenced by it."
Subluxe is Healy's first attempt at a full-length album. (He calls his 2015 project, A Galaxy With Skin, an EP.) Premiered here today, the collection of songs begins with "Everything," a choir of chirping birds and bright chords that seem to signal a fresh start, a new morning. That sense of wonder and joy is largely sustained right through the final moments of project closer and introverted nighttime anthem "Unwind." Neighborhood shenanigans and bankrolled rainbows fill the space between start and finish. Smoke hangs in the air. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles become metaphors for abandoning social shells and trips to Joshua Tree reveal sunsets colorful enough to appear godlike.
The album, incepted in 2015 and largely written within Healy’s home (“I can really be myself there”), sounds and feels like a young man growing up (or refusing to) as he learns the ropes and searches for something more. Plenty of present-minded fun fuels the journey starring someone Healy refers to as "a fictional character" that closely resembles a former version of himself. Indeed, much of the music would fit snugly into the puzzle-piece mind of a high school senior days removed from graduation. The care-free, lackadaisical verve (complete with gently lapping waves on) sugarcoats less pleasant matters. "Butternut" sees Healy mull over lost love and allude to something darker: "I've seen too much for 22," he sings, his voice tinged with somber innocence.
"A few close friends from high school and connected circles all passed very recently," he tells us. "That song ultimately reflects on a failed relationship of the character in the project, so it also hints at the arduous, not-so-desirable parts of really relinquishing yourself to another human."
Connectivity—of people, places, tendons and ligaments—cuts deep into Healy’s cortex. It at once sounds odd and makes perfect sense that his side hustle (an ongoing enrollment in a doctorate program for physical therapy) shifted his perception of how certain events can have unexpected ripples, or that surprising causes pull fate’s strings.
He explains this lens through which he views the world in detail: “I think I like the idea of differential diagnosis and looking at every person like a riddle. Sometimes they’ll present to you with pain in their knee, but since the body is one big chain their back could be causing the pain. Physical therapy definitely makes me think differently, and my relationships with my classmates and the subject matter influence my writing.”
Occasional conflicts arise between school and recording (he had to skip several days of class to sit in on mixing sessions), but blowback from juggling dreams and academic rigor has remained minimal. Ethan actually credits the need to balance and prioritize competing interests as a driver behind his performance—promising to say the least. He has quietly generated more than six million streams across Spotify and SoundCloud and amassed steady followings on both services despite comparably limited exposure on social media and next to no press support beyond his local market, to which he is fiercely loyal.
"Memphis is witnessing the beginning of a total cultural renaissance,” Healy says. “There's this huge underground scene of all walks of artists and having a front row seat to watch everyone come together feels like a dream. We're hosting house shows that spotlight local artists, and they’re doing really well and getting people excited about local music again. You've got artists like Don Lifted who are using visuals to completely bend the way you perceive music and artists like Jon Waltz who are perfectly encapsulating feelings that everyone else our age is afraid to have. People like Project Pat and Dolph and Elvis are pioneers of a sound that has helped raise a new Memphis, and it’s the new Memphis that’s playing host to some of the most creative and exciting things I’ve experienced.”
Healy’s standing in Memphis and beyond is all but destined to grow as Subluxe spreads. His ability to convey mood through tone is only matched by the pockets of energy he reserves for eyebrow-raising vocal cries, belted from the bottom of his chest (“Unwind”). Every so often a questionable line emerges from the ether, or a concept falls flat, thinning the line between Healy’s work and the more superficial beach house music penned by so-called frat rappers who get maligned by critics for their lack of artistry (in their defense, they also sell out shows, and in Healy’s defense, he’s more talented than all of them). But maturity and artistic growth go hand in hand, and the raw skill displayed here is more than enough to have faith in Healy’s future.
Wherever Subluxe takes this Tennessee titan in the making, new perspectives will surely make his travels worthwhile. Listen to Subluxe below and let it warm your bones.