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Coming through with the groovy socially conscious album “On the Way Around the Sun,” Menlo-Atherton Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) teacher Lance Powell’s band Bionic Sloth delivers a great concept album with a funky sound and a clear social message. In addition to the socio-economic commentary of the lyrics, the proceeds of the album’s sales will go to helping sloth conservation efforts.

While giving a healthy dose of homage to the band’s influences, Bionic Sloth differentiates itself with a unique energy and contemporary social commentary. The track “Howard Zinn Blues” references an unnamed book by the titular activist, most likely “A People’s History of the United States,” judging from the song’s commentary on the state of socio-economic relations.

APES teacher Lance Powell cites the Grateful Dead as a major musical influence.

Every song on the album notes and advocates for a reexamination of many elements of American and Western society, whether it be the perception of classism through the lens of affluence in “Smoke & Mirrors,” or the “military-industrial complex” critiqued in the song “Only a Dream.” Even while defending the legacy of American forefathers in the track “Won in a Battle,” Powell’s lyrics still manage to denote the countless ways to address the social issues the country currently faces.

A fantastic album sonically, “On the Way Around the Sun” combines aspects of jam bands such as Phish and Powell’s favorite, Grateful Dead, with bluesy and funky elements, at some points evoking stylistic elements similar to 1980s Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jamiroquai, and other fusion acts. The reggae beat of “Spinning World” gives a deft nod to the sounds of Sublime and related bands, channeling vibe of the Grateful Dead’s classic “Fire on the Mountain.” The funk rock influence comes out most heavily in “Low Down & Dirty,” where the dissonant chords resonate with the societal confusion the narrator of the lyrics faces in the song, and the groove is so tight that one can’t help but jam out in place to at the very least.

Overall, this new release from Bionic Sloth hits all of the right targets. The thoughtful genre-fusing sounds that permeate the album are inescapably catchy, and the lyrics pull no punches with their critique of society’s faults. A great album to put the band on the local scene and to raise money for a good cause, Bionic Sloth has made an excellent and thought-provoking record.

Best tracks: “Howard Zinn Blues” “Spinning World” “Smoke & Mirrors” “By N By”

Interested in learning more about Powell’s music journey and Bionic Sloth’s new album? Check out the first issue of The Mark for “A Dance with Lance.”

Powell encourages donations to Sloth Habitat Protection. The M-A Chronicle is not affiliated with this donation page in any way.

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