“Songs for Screens” is a Variety column written by Andrew Hampp, a VP at New York-based music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents and former branding correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as new and catalog songs that we deem ripe for synch use.
Bryndon Cook has helped shape the sound and visuals of some of the most transformative R&B projects of the past several years — including co-writing “Don’t Touch My Hair” for Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” and being musical director for its accompanying tour, multiple collaborations with Blood Orange mastermind Dev Hynes and indie duo Chairlift’s farewell tour.
But for his own music as Starchild & The Romantic, the Brooklyn-based musician had trouble visualizing where the project’s combination of Prince funk, futuristic soul and left-in-the-sun psych synths could live in the world — until a friend helped him score a synch for the song “Relax” in 2014’s Netflix series “Dear White People.”
“I’m not a natural minimalist, even though I strive to be — like a lot of people in 2018,” says Cook, whose debut full-length as Starchild & The Romantic, “Language,” was released on Friday (Feb. 23). “So sometimes it surprises me when people get different inspiration from the imagery and lyrics that I’m making,”
Though most of the album was performed and composed by Cook and collaborator Chester Raj Anand, Language has a full-bodied sound full of Minneapolis throwback cool (it’s hard not to imagine Morris Day & The Time wailing their way through “Black Diamond” or “Lost Boys” in a “Purple Rain” sequence), dream-filtered quiet-storm soul (“Ophelia’s Room,” the early Boyz II Men-esque “Boys Choir”) and the jittery funk that car commercials are made of (“Hands Off.”)
But it’s the album’s centerpiece “Hangin On” that deserves to reach the album’s widest audience. The optimistic ballad pays sonic homage to ’70s singer-songwriters Carole King and Todd Rundgren while Cook croons lyrics inspired by civil-rights leaders like Medgar Evers (“My mama said ‘Follow your dreams’ / Well I guess you were my warning.”) It could be equally at home in a Lena Waithe Showtime drama as it would for a brand commercial looking to promote unity the right way in a post-Pepsi/Kendall Jenner landscape.
“That’s always the goal of putting together a 14-track album – I wanted to be able to have songs that stand out on their own and speak to who I am without having to prove anything or be a smash hit,” Cook says. “To me, my music is pop music, but there’s some tension to it.”