TRACK REVIEW: Trickster Guru (Ft. AWAY)- Problem Child



Trickster Guru (ft. AWAY)



Problem Child




Problem Child is available via:


1st April, 2016


Blues; Alternative; Pop


Los Angeles, U.S.A.


FEW greater pleasures exist than discovering musicians…

that put you in a better frame of mind. Before I talk about influences, cross-genre sounds and collaborations: it is worth exploring the medicinal and psychological effects of music. I know I keep saying it but the truth rings loud: we all require something uplifting and positive right now. The world gets shakier and less sure every week- such insanity and horror unfurling before our eyes.  Whether that atrocity is on our doorstep or not; it has a profound effect on the psyche; naturally, everyone will be affected some way. In response to that, we can react one of two ways: either find something positive to help us get through; that or crumble and let it get on top of us. The former is a preferable option and one we should be pursuing. Music is a mystical and soul-nourishing force that is capable of some wonderful things. It doesn’t matter if you are a musician or a music listener: the result and motivation is the same. I, myself, have been rather downbeat and hunting for anything that can help balm the wounds- music is helping a great deal. Artists that arrive and put the smile on faces; cause something positive and redemptive in the bones: that is what we are looking for. It doesn’t matter what genre you play (more on that later) or where you come from- if your songs can transport listeners somewhere safe and hopeful; you have a great chance of holding their attention for many years. The music industry is such a fickle and unpredictable place: is it enough to simply create happiness and escapism in the listener? Well, not really, but my point is this: it is an essential and much-needed starting block. My featured artist is someone who can bring soothe the mind but goes a lot further.

Trickster Guru has been around long enough to know what it takes to succeed and remain. Before I talk about him- and raise some new points- it is worth introducing him to you:

“Trickster Guru is the alternative rock and electronic project of singer songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Christopher Caplan.  Trickster Guru’s debut EP “Problem Child”, beautifully fuses vintage rock and soul with the excitement and innovation of modern electronic synth. Like a poignant conduit between the past and present, “Problem Child” draws influence from rock anthem greats such as The Doors and Jeff Buckley as well as modern electronic artists such as Flume and Skrillex.  The added synths and beats from alternative electronic co-producer AWAY, allows Trickster Guru to ingeniously create a sound of passion, culture and indulgence.

Although Trickster Guru began as a two-piece garage rock band in 2013, the band sadly broke up before self-releasing their debut EP “Black and White” in early 2014 after a near fatal car accident in the desert. This experience inspired the first single off the new EP “Feel the Spirit.” one of their tracks to be featured on NPR’s KCRW. Between creatively addictive yet divergent hooks, “Feel the Spirit” reflects the spiritual seeking and psychedelic culture of Los Angeles while addressing, through its narrative, the heart-breaking realism of the city.

The “Problem Child” EP features mastery from Nick Stratton, Jason Aguja, and Dylan Fenley. Trickster Guru reveals ‘the new EP was a way of coming to terms with my past – artistically, emotionally and spiritually.”  This is ideally demonstrated with the stunning accompanying music video shot in Astoria Oregon, which pulls inspirations from the surreal, gritty and realistic style of David Lynch, and also features the talented musician and model Lindsay Perry. Buzzbands LA praised “Problem Child” as ‘a collection of bluesy pop and unrestrained rockers that display substantial range yet are not always what they seem’.

Following the “Problem Child” EP release show at “It’s a School Night”, and recent performances at The Satallite, The Study and KCRW’s Summer Nights, Trickster Guru continues to organically gain media attention and radio play including Buzzbands, KCSN and KXLU. Trickster Guru’s unique understanding of technology intersecting with music via augmented reality, shows an honorable dedication to the future of music, of which he hopes to create his own pathway and musical culture.”


Cross-genres and influences. Two subjects that are important when it comes to your music. Trickster Guru (is an artist) that uses different sounds to create something awesome and new. We get some vintage, old-style shades of Blues and Rock. Tied together with modern Electronica: artists from The Doors and Flume come together; a union few would ever imagine. Problem Child (E.P.) brings the past and present together and does so in an extraordinary way. Those who adore everyone from The Doors to Jeff Buckley will raise a smile: those who prefer the harder, more direct music of Skrillex will not be disappointed. Fusing disparate sounds is quite a risky venture. Many artists resist the temptation altogether: getting it wrong can be quite damaging and embarrassing. Those who do it (and do it well) should be applauded. It is not unoriginal or lazy experimenting and unifying old and new: it can make music more layered, fascinating and appealing. Trickster Guru has grown up around a range of artists and learnt from them; integrating their essence into something unique and fresh. Of course, there is more to the man than genre-joining. The music itself is a festival for the ears. Our man has had quite a tumultuous and difficult road to success. Having formed the two-piece band in 2013 (Trickster Guru), a near-fatal collision almost ended his musical dreams- the fact he has rebuilt and continues to strive is a testament to his fortitude and defiance. The music (of Trickster’) reflects the dichotomy of L.A. life. On the one hand, you have that fantastical dreaminess and beauty: the gorgeous voices, multi-cultural neighbourhoods and wonderful sights. On the other side, there is the realism of the city: the heartache, loneliness, and harshness that can be found. I guess that is the same with any major city (London is a perfect example) but few are able to portray that balance and contrast through music.

Photo: Rory Kramer

Problem Child brings city experiences with personal insight and recollections; topics of love, life, and survival. The way these subjects and emotions are represented is through bold sonic invention and a direct, to-the-soul delivery. Rock and Blues are soldered with myriad strands: songs that have mystery and depth; plenty of nuance when you listen hard enough. Problem Child’s title cut brings AWAY to the bosom. The combination of talents makes the song a wonderful song that cannot be forgotten in a hurry. Collaborations, like cross-pollination to an extent, can be a risky endeavor. It takes two (or more) special, intuitive voices to succeed: if they are mismatched or an ill fit; the ensuing work is going to suffer.  Problem Child does not suffer any such fate. The mingling of Trickster Guru and AWAY creates alchemy, for sure. Let’s hope they work together in the future, but until then, it is important we encourage more collaborations in music. Bands hardly ever join forces with anyone: it would be great to see a group bring another singer/artist in for a few songs. Solo artists are more open but often feel they need to keep their music to/by/about them. If there are any other cooks in the mix: perhaps listeners will ignore them. Whatever the psychology; musicians need to be more adventurous and take chances once in a while. Some of the finest music I have heard in the past year has arrived when artists get together- take that gamble and create something sensational.

Trickster Guru has had quite a long and busy career so far. If we are assessing Problem Child; it is worth looking back and seeing how he has progressed. Black and White is a song that starts with Reggae groove and slinks into life. “Stray cats in the night” and indecision are assessed. The early sentiments lead me to look at relationship break-ups and miscommunication. The song has a great quiet-loud dynamic and the delineation is superb- atmospheric and highly unexpected. Trickster Guru is in command and makes the song sound completely essential and urgent. Sparse, funky guitars give the track a real kick and coolness. Messiah is a contrasting song that begins with scratchy riffs and Blues elements. Another funky and insatiable introduction: it leads to a fast-paced and emotive vocal from Trickster Guru. The entire E.P. (Black and White) is defined by its uplifting, Funk-cum-Blues tracks that get the feet tapping. Indiana Speedway Bomber takes things (briefly) into Country territory but is imbued with that rushing, hectic mood. It is a song that looks at the bombing of a small town- an evocative narrative that brings you right into the song. Feel the Spirit looks at the contrasts of L.A. The heady nightlife and dancing “on a Saturday night” is brought into view. There is drug-addled regrets and hedonism; the beauty and scenic views- the differences and diversions the city has to offer.

That is just a sprinkling of Trickster Guru’s work and is worth checking out. Every track and E.P. has such quality, consistency, and style. Whether spirited Blues songs or something more reflective: you cannot help fall in love with the music and what is being sung. Our hero looks at a variety of topics- from love and life to L.A. and its people- and is not an artist that stays on one topic- always keen to remain nimble, mobile and flexible. The Problem Child E.P. takes his back catalogue on and adds extra layers and urgency to the fold. The latest material is the finest from the America. He is at his rawest, most committed and compelling now. While the subject matter embraces new concerns; the compositions will be familiar with existing fans. It would be great to see an L.P. from Trickster Guru in the future as he is one of the busiest and prolific musicians around. Problem Child’s title track is the most arresting and instant song I have heard from Trickster Guru. A sensational track that flows with life, imagination, and passion- a wonderful revelation from a stunning artist.

Problem Child opens with spritzing, jagged electronics that convey different emotions. You get impressions of a drive down a highway; arguments and tension: all this comes to fruition from a few simple notes. Setting the scene and painting images early on: the listener is free to imagine and dive inside the song. The introduction, like a lot of Trickster Guru’s work, is filled with originality and momentum. The lo-fi, repetitive electronic buzz pervades and takes you into the world of the Los Angeles man. In the song’s video- at this stage in proceedings- we see an abandoned car at the side of the road. A woman falls from the driver’s side and starts to crawl across the tarmac. That image sets the tones for the opening notes. There is a degree of panic and unpredictability early on. Wordless vocals from our hero; a cooing, wordless utterance of beauty: Trickster Guru and AWAY melt their tones- AWAY provides the synths./electronics and beats- and get the song underway. Rather than go straight in with lyrics and get to the heart of the matter: Trickster Guru builds the song and ensures he does not reveal too much too soon. That two-handed vocal beginning is beautiful and odd at the same time- you start to imagine different scenarios and possibilities; it is both oblique and direct. When our hero steps to the microphone, he is looking at his sweetheart. His girl is free and wild; different from everyone else and somewhat a rebel- the car crash scenario in the video would suggest she is a loose cannon and danger-seeking girl. Her “spirit is alive”; she is special and divine: someone who is causing shivers and excitement in his bones.

Backing the vocal is subtle string-work and romantic notes. We get a blend of impassioned shiver and edgy, hard-minded drive. These contrasts add to the overall effect which is quite stunning. Despite Problem Child being one of the more soulful and reflective songs- calmer and more seductive than previous Trickster Guru numbers- it is one of the finest. Even in the early moments, you are transfixed and hooked. Our man is a problem child and seems to need the girl. Whether the song is from a first-person perspective I am not sure. Maybe he is flipping things and speaking from the girl’s point-of-view. One suspects it is autobiographical and our hero is holding onto someone that is giving his life meaning. The beats get heavy and the composition rousing and graceful. A woman who is free-spirited, beautiful and life-affirming: you get impressions of who is being attested and what she means to him. “Born to be wild/Oh the problem child” springs out of nowhere and is a mantra that gets straight into the brain. Propelled by insatiable electronics and a hardened spine: the composition explodes into life and creates a real sense of drama and occasion. It is at this point you stop still and let the words flow over you. From the soul-flecked, smooth beginnings: Problem Child takes a turn and instantly changes the mood. If you follow the video; you see our hero in a car with the heroine. She has a coquettish look and playful façade; the two are alone and you sense an imminent coming together (no pun intended). I still wonder as to who is the problem child; who the song is portraying. From the video, one would assume the girl is the flighty, problem: someone who needs grounding and stability. Hearing the song on its own merit: I get the view the hero is the one who requires saving and redemption. Whatever your viewpoint; you cannot escape the claustrophobia and nerviness that is brought into the track. Just when you need a breath and chance for quiet; the song starts to calm. Piano notes roll and romance replaces uncertainty. That dynamic shift and change of projection: it catches you and resonates for sure. Most artists are fairly simple-minded and predictable when it comes to compositions. There are musicians that push the envelope but a lot of new musicians do not cause that much surprise. Trickster Guru makes sure his compositions are alive, varied and hard to predict.

Problem Child is a mini-epic that changes course and seems like a three-part suite. From the early professions and love-filled decelerations; we move into self-revelation and contextualisation. Our hero has some stories to tell and seems to be letting honesty come out. “I can tell you lots of stories about the hippies and the war/I can give you the feeling that you’ve been here before” are lines that are fascinating and unusual. From that revelation, one imagines an older storyteller: someone who has lived a life and seen a lot. Problem Child, once more, changes your mind and seems to be less personal and direct than one first thought. Maybe the song is about a variety of people; those lines might be fantastical and a bit of a red herring. Tease and contradictions are paired together. Our man can create and reveal the Garden of Eden; he will make it rotten to the core. Heaven’s gates will be flung open; only to have them slammed shut. His girl is being promised wonderful things to have them stolen and replaced with harshness. The song title becomes more defined and relevant with every new line. Who knows what is causing this rebellion and cold attitude. “Sweet ecstasy” (a name or term used to describe his love) is a much-needed anchor and reality check. Despite the wars and negativity: he has someone that calms his soul and gives meaning to life. Maybe I am misreading but one assumes that fact. Just as you get immersed in the open, soul-baring side; the song shifts once more. That exhilarating, near-violent electronic contortion comes back to provide relief, sexuality, and anger. Problem Child brings Blues and Soul together with Electronica and Dub-Step without losing focus or authority. Trickster Guru has always been masterful when splicing genres: here, he is at the top of his game and has created one of his greatest songs. If you follow the video; all sorts of peril and violence is unfolding. Our man is being strangled by a priest and evading holy men. The heroine follows him- they are at a beach as two priests are converging and attacking our man- with a gun in hand. Those images are a pertinent and perfect representation of a song that runs thick with drama and heartache.

The final minute finds the song at its hardest and most primal. The stridulating, vibrating electronics slice, smack and swagger their way through. Grungy, dirty undertones mix with a clean and clinical side: the resultant collaboration takes the song to a new level. Distorted, salacious guitars fuse and add yet another genre (Grunge; Blues-Rock perhaps) to the spectrum. The wild one, the problem child: our hero cannot catch a break and is walking a road he should not be. You sense a desire to change and redeem himself. That’s what makes the song’s video ironic. Perhaps unholy and abandoning ecumenical corners: he is stalked by men of God before being strangled- a very odd and David Lynch-esque story. All along, one feels Trickster Guru does not want to be problematic and troublesome: he just needs the right person to give him guidance and meaning. His heroine provides that ballast and love: maybe it has come too late; he cannot change his ways and is stuck in a rut. By the final notes, the tale has been told and one wonders how things turned out. In the video, the vengeful priest is shot (by the heroine) and the duo has a chance to flee. Problem Child caused a lot of thought in me: just what it meant and its origins. A fascinating song that hits the senses and gets right into the soul. The composition is epic, diverse and changeable. So many different shades and colours come together. At once, calmed and introverted; it grows to exhilarating, electric heights- a filmic number that one will not forget. The lyrics intrigue while the vocal amazes and shines throughout. You need a few listens to get the full effect of the song; it reveals itself and its intricacies across time- the definition of a nuanced track. A superb accomplishment from one of the U.S.’s, and the world’s, most promising musicians. Kudos goes to AWAY whose percussion and electronic contributions add so much life, drama and brilliance to the song. A great partnership I hope will be seen in the future.

Trickster Guru might be a new name to British ears but that should all change. L.A. and the U.S. has, once more, provided an intriguing future star. I get sent a lot of American review subjects and am never disappointed. Like the U.K.; there is a fantastic scene and so many different types of acts- musicians that deserve more attention than they have. It is tough breaking out of ‘local’ circles and making an impact on a national/international level. Trickster Guru is making a mark in the U.S.- his new E.P. has picked up some very impressive reviews- so it cannot be too long until his music is spread across the nation. There are too many pointless Pop artists and overrated artists that get undeserved acclaim and success. Those genuine and talented often have to fight harder and struggle for focus. I hope that injustice is righted in the coming years. Until a solution is arrived at: what of the likes of Trickster Guru? He seems to be keeping busy with music and would be nice to see him come overseas; come to the U.K. and play some shows here. Unfortunately, financial strains and logistical considerations must all be considered. If Trickster Guru can source funds and times: British crowds would certainly welcome the problem child in. I opened by discussing experimenting with genres and collaboration; the vitality of music (as a positive tool) and how underrated it is in general. This year has been incredible for music in general. Whether artist are reacting to the world at large- the heartaches and pains- I am not sure. One thing is pretty clear: 2016 has been a very rosy and prolific year for music. Let’s hope this parlays into 2017 and keeps the ball rolling.

Problem Child is an E.P. already well-loved among critics in L.A. and the U.S. Trickster Guru has been on the radar for years and has created (perhaps) his most assured, compelling and complete work- there will be debate among fans. The title track brims and bristles; it is instant but has a slow-burning quality. Too many musicians still come across one-dimensional, predictable and safe. There is some justification for that, I guess. The industry is a tough and unpredictable place. Critics and labels demand something instant and popular: music that fits in with mainstream consensus and tastes. Those who push against these sensibilities face an unsure future but create the greatest music. Trickster Guru might not have huge pressure from label bosses and press (just yet): there is an expectation to evolve and inspire- he has not let us down just yet. Problem Child’s early wave of effusiveness is very apt and deserved. A modern artist who gives us something familiar and direct; unexpected, individual and stunning- essentially, something for everyone. Trickster Guru has battled adversity and obstacles and grown stronger. Airplay and local attention has put the music to the people. This is just the start of things. Whether Trickster Guru thinks about reassembling a band- or keen to keep solo- there are possibilities and options before him. Make sure you grab hold of Problem Child and experience its wonder and revelations. The title track, for me, defines what makes Trickster Guru a singular artist. You get flavours of older acts (I have mentioned The Doors, for one) and new acts like Flume. Whilst those suggestions are a base: they augment sounds that could only stem from the young American. It is hard to truly unravel and explain the feeling one gets: the best thing to do is experience it for yourself. Our hero might have had an unsure and uneven last few years; that will all change. It only takes a few minutes (of Problem Child) to realise Trickster Guru’s future is…

GOLDEN and safe.



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