Gene O’s new single “COOL” will find favor with the San Francisco-based singer/songwriter and musician’s longtime fans. It will also work as a spot-on introduction for listeners discovering Gene for the first time. This stalwart of the Northing California musical community doesn’t betray any weariness or wear after many years on this artistic journey and, frankly, it pleasantly surprised me that Gene wasn’t an 18-22-year-old prodigy bursting on the scene.

The talent illustrated by this single is, indeed, prodigious. It makes it all the more remarkable that Gene O doesn’t overstate it at any point along the way Instead, however, “COOL” turns out to be a potent mix of modern and traditional R&B paired with Latin overtones. The latter part of the songwriting never strikes me as cliched; it could very easily go in that direction, but Gene seems content with providing more of a suggestion than any outright invocation of such flavors.

It has lasting value as either a single or else part of a larger collection. Gene O. is a longtime veteran of the performing and songwriting art, so he understands how to get inside songs such as this without obscuring their musical qualities. The arrangement has a fullness that helps bring out Gene O’s personality and through his vocal as well. He has a seasoned ability to communicate the song’s message without ever allowing personal idiosyncrasies to take over the song.

The song makes exceptional use of horns. It isn’t ever a boisterous presentation, far from it, but Gene O’s stylistic affectations aren’t as heavy-handed as some of you may fear. The presence of brass in the musical mix brings a further dimension to the piece that it would otherwise lack rather than allowing it to potentially flounder as an unjustly labeled genre work. Gene O is far too canny for that.

There’s ample evidence for his canniness in the way he has positioned his songs for maximum exposure. “COOL” deserves the same. It is an elastic entry in the highly stylized way it unfolds for listeners, but its nods toward a stylized texture doesn’t mean it hits a false note for listeners. I hung on every note and word. It doesn’t remake the songwriting wheel, not everything has to, but it’s a solid reminder of why Gene O deserves to be mentioned among the top notch indie musicians emerging from the Bay Area in the last decade or more.

It isn’t the last time we’ll be hearing from Gene O this year either. He plans on returning again with a final 2022 single in the fall, so “COOL” has an opportunity to build momentum for a final push that closes out the year. His music is cut from the same cloth and, in the end, the totality of his creativity for the year will help further solidify his claim as one of hottest indie songwriters in this vein working right now. There are no signs he’s going anywhere, and he sounds as self-assured and collected as anyone on the scene today. 

Garth Thomas