Mike Rickard has a lot to say in his new album Out Loud, and though listeners who are familiar with the work he’s done prior to the release of this latest affair will tell you that he’s never had a problem telling it like it is in the past, I think there’s something especially profound about the limb he goes out on in the songs featured here. In “Six Queer Kids,” Rickard discusses the vicious plight that often comes with being openly gay in America today (and always, to be fair), where the very act of living as one’s true self can be seen as a sin punishable by abandonment, discrimination and even death. In the title cut and “What Love Looks Like,” he sings of self-acceptance, and moreover, the cathartic release that comes with defying the narrative other people set up for us in life. From the warm vibes of “Alright” to the introspection of “Don’t Feed the Ghosts” and “Not Finished Yet,” Mike Rickard is as relentless as a coastal hurricane in Out Loud, confirming both his status within the hierarchy of the American underground and his role as one of pop’s most inspiring young voices in the game today.

“Don’t Feed the Ghosts,” “Six Queer Kids” and “Surrender” are some of the most throttling ballads I’ve listened to in the year 2020, but they don’t overshadow the other content on this disc at all. Everything here fits well together, whether it be the textured swing of “Sand” or the reflective rhythm of a pendulous “Not Finished Yet,” and of all the elements binding the material together, Mike Rickard’s voice is always the most significantly consistent point of interest.

“Taste Your Smile,” “Alright” and “Wouldn’t Be Love” are a little more compositionally conventional and black and white than, say, “You’re to Blame” or “Six Queer Kids” are, but the contrast between the conservative aesthetics and the loud n’ proud harmonies unquestionably makes the as-is tracklist easy to listen to without ever feeling the need to hit the shuffle button. Aside from wanting a little more bass presence in “Don’t Feed the Ghosts,” there isn’t a thing I’d change about this record, cosmetic, compositional or otherwise, and that isn’t something I’ve been able to say about every pop LP I’ve reviewed in the last three months.

2020 has been turning in some really fantastic indie content free of the scene politics that once kept some of pop’s greatest gems out of the spotlight, and of all the records that I’ve come across in this early spring season, Out Loud is inarguably the most emotional and accessible to both fans of Mike Rickard and those who simply enjoy solid melodicism every now and again. Rickard still has some room to grow into this sound, but there’s no getting around the fact that he’s putting more of himself into this latest work than most any of his competitors in the underground have in recent years. I’ll be eagerly awaiting more of his music, and once you’ve heard this LP, I think you will be, too.

Garth Thomas