Fissionary, aka Charlie Stubbs, is a one-man experimental pop superstar in the making. A relatively unknown artist in the Dallas music scene, Fissionary quietly released its first album, Descriptions, in late 2018 — a frenetic album filled with message and purpose. Since then, Fissionary has put out a smattering of singles leading up to its most recent release, Learjets.
Coming in at about 23 minutes in length, Learjets is intended to be a short and somewhat ironic statement about what it looks like to be a popstar, contrasted with what it actually feels like to meet the demands of that lifestyle.
The title of the album is a reference (in part) to one of North Texas' most popular songs, "The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton" by The Mountain Goats, in which singer John Darnielle tells the story of Jeff and Cyrus who "believed in their hearts / They were headed for stage lights and Lear jets and fortune and fame," while their future remains uncertain.
This folk-punk callout is in some respect a reference to the musical journey Stubbs himself has taken on his way to becoming a self-proclaimed synth nerd.
"I had been writing folk-punk music — as cringey as that is — but that's how I got into writing," Stubbs says. "As I was writing, I was kind of falling out of love with rock, and I started to be fascinated by synth."
Fissionary maintains the folk-punk roots of writing in the new album's lyrics. Instead of putting those lyrics in the foreground of acoustic guitars and washboards, Fissionary has found a way to electrify his misgivings about the artist's journey into something danceable and energetic.
"I really like the freedom that comes along with doing it by myself," Stubbs says. "It's just an avenue through which to get good at production; that's what it will continue to be and that's definitely what this album is. I'm trying to get closer to that point where I feel totally confident in what exactly a Fissionary album is and what that means to me. So, it's self-discovery thing, I think."
Along that road of self-discovery, Stubbs has picked up some major influences. While Fissionary's sound brings to mind the heartfelt electropop of LCD Soundsystem, Of Montreal or Yeasayer, Stubbs says he was trying to pull from the space rock sounds of Muse's The 2nd Law and the album structure of Brian Eno.
"Even in albums that [Eno] just produced, there was this tendency for them to start very excited ... I mean bangers, you could say, but then kind of trail off into being sweet, thoughtful territory as it goes on," Stubbs says. "Even on something like Talking Heads' Remain in Light, you can see his influence on that type of structure. It's a super short album, but in like eight songs it goes from super excited to 'The Overload,' that last song, which is very thoughtful."
Eno's influence can certainly be heard across the album as strange sounds in the background of the album's introduction find their place and meaning across Learjets' own eight-song structure.
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"I really think that if I made this album with no songs that made you want to move, that people would not care," Stubbs says. "You gotta hook people. The first was more sophisticated dance stuff that you could also just sit down and listen, but I'm trying to nail that balance of contemplative music and dance music because I want to be both."
On tracks like "Helium" and "Tepid," Stubbs seems to do that with Fissionary, both of which are easy contenders for any dance floor and more energetic moments on an otherwise sad playlist dedicated to loneliness.
Stubbs doesn't feel like he's hit his mark just yet and honestly doubts he ever will, but he does know he is getting closer.
"I always stress I'm trying to figure it out, specifically right now and over the course of the Learjets' writing period," Stubbs says of his work. "I'm just generally dissatisfied with a lot of what I'm saying in my life, so a lot of my lyrics, whether or not you can tell, come from that dissatisfaction. That's a pretty relatable foundation, I think."