ALBUM REVIEW: U-Pistol – Last Splinter

Written by Louis Pelingen

A decade after he first popped up in the local music scene, Zeon Gomez has worn many masks under his belt through the multitudes of projects and collectives that he has worked on and contributed with, overall showcasing him as a jack of all trades within the local musical circles, namely his other side project Promote Violence; bands like Rome and the Cats, Moon Mask, Spirit Ocean; and collectives like YoungLiquidGang, and BuwanBuwanCollective. Through these jumping points that Zeon has taken from differing acts after another, an important part that needs to be acknowledged is that even as he flits across various side-projects, his knack for venturing within the waves of gleaming synth electronica, stirring pop melodies, and personal lyrical flair has always carried over, developed further under his main musical alias: U-Pistol. 

Through his first two albums in the 2010s, his ambition to embrace those characteristics above is shown in their clearest sights, not to mention the features spanning from Sarah Bonito, Aseul, Yikii, and others that reveal his firm stance towards curating Asian artists as he was deeply invested with J-Pop, K-Pop, and C-pop during the time. While he hasn’t donned that mask quite often in the 2020s as he slowly starts working behind the scenes through the music prod Kashira, his growth as an artist over time hints at a sonic shift waiting to happen, especially with his embrace of hip-hop under the U-Pistol and Promote Violence namesakes.

8 years since he put out his last material, Last Splinter is the 3rd long-awaited installment under U-Pistol’s discography, careening through sonic foundations that he propped up in his past projects like “Waste” and “Girlfriend,” but the overall showcase of his brand of synth gleaming electronica has now matured, branching off into an evolved version of his style. Underneath the glassy synth works are an array of elements that create a genre-shifting project where past aspects of his past projects now manifest here, further bringing in blaring guitars and shuffling rhythms that only hone in U-Pistol’s great strength towards creating snappy hip-hop and pop melodies amidst propulsive production within the project’s 35-minute runtime. His performances on ‘Glass Garden’ and ‘Hortensia’ in particular are remarkable, his mellifluous range as he silkily flows across the feet-shuffling soundscape of the former and tenderly sings on the somber acoustics of the latter shows that he has exceeded as a rapper and a singer.

Of course, it’s not a U-Pistol project without a collage of collaborations helping out in this project, settling more towards the local music scene, an intended decision that gets reflected through a specific part of the eventual narrative. Fellow Kashira prod members like Calix and Tatz Maven help crystallize a lot of the colorful instrumental soundscapes as well as the sonic clarity of the project; Hanako and Syn under the old Spirit Ocean band lend their vocals, where Hanako’s prim voice assists on the tuneful albeit instrumentally clunky “Blue-Eyed Grass” and Syn’s stark performance on the reworked version of a previously released Spirit Ocean track “Marigold, in the Afternoon” with additional guitar work from Arkyalina carries the exhausted yearning of the track; VS VIDEOTAPES’ and yx2’s co-production on the light and fuzzy textures of “VS VIDEOTAPES INTERLUDE” and the jersey club groove of “Plum Blossom” respectively are exciting additions that manages to blend within the consistent production scope of the album, allowing the melodies to bounce and fizz a bit more; SHNTI’s sense of effortless cool works in-tandem with U-Pistol’s sleek flows on “Wisteria” and its scratchy beat as “Wilting, if Forever Never Comes” tailors the thematic arc of the project.

The sense of maturation eventually sneaks through in the overall narrative of the project. Conceptualized around the masked man in his glass garden waiting for a certain flower to bloom that acts as a metaphor for U-Pistol’s self-isolation post-break-up, it paints a familiar theme that he has waded upon on his past projects. Namely surrounding the wilted romance that he still yearns and clings to, a connection that he wishes to keep sparking despite knowing that the ex in question now has somebody else entirely. It’s a situation that leaves him conflicted and hurt, the angst pulling him deeper and deeper into melancholy. Yet as the album progresses, he gently picks up past the heartbreak and eventually decides to leave the entire situation as he notices that there’s no benefit in waiting for that flower to bloom. It’s a vivid arc that U-Pistol portrays effortlessly, yet the personal emotional nuance is deepened a little bit further, specifically directed toward the collaborations he pulled in for this project. In ‘The Chained Man Inside the Glass Garden’ interlude specifically, there are these various murmurs from multiple people that call out to Zeon, expressing worry towards his state of ennui, asking him to hang out and telling him if he’s feeling alright. These voices that were heard don’t come from strangers but are the friends, collaborators, and various people that Zeon knew and bonded with personally in his life, placing their overall presence in this specific interlude as an acknowledgment of the support that Zeon has during this eventful turmoil and seeing him not through the U-Pistol name and his various musical works, but under Zeon as the person that they know and care about deeply. It’s a small moment that does so much, recognizing the number of people that Zeon cares about as he acknowledges how much they’ve helped him back in his life, overall making the collaborations of this project feel so much more personally heartfelt and synergistic.

And with that comes the project’s overall blast of sonic mixtures and a case of strong foundations embellished with the well-placed blending of sound textures, styles, and performances from U-Pistol & co paired with neatly arranged compositions and familiar yet deeply invested emotional throughline. As U-Pistol leaves outside of that glass garden, there is another field that opens more space for him to flourish in. Last Splinter shows not the end of U-Pistol, but yet an exciting newfound transformation and revitalization of his eclectic growth.

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