SYML and Jes Kramer deliver a stirring performance at Monday night concert

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“Girl, you’ll come to see the world/and you’ll come to learn/that falling in love is a strange work of art,” SYML writes in his song “Girl,” which he described at his Monday concert as a “letter” to his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. These meditative lyrics are characteristic of the thirty-five-year-old singer, who had his Calvin audience mesmerized with his introspective messages and ethereal sound.

SYML is the solo breakout of former Barcelona member Brian Fennell. Fennell, who has been performing in different groups since college, released his first EP as SYML in 2016 and has been making music under the moniker ever since.

“This is not EDM. It’s a different application of electronic music … it’s very soft and contemplative. The lyrics are more substantive than you usually find in EDM,” Student Activities Office (SAO) Director Ken Heffner told Chimes in a pre-concert interview. But why SYML? “Every kind of style has strengths … the vocabulary of the music is able to express certain things well,” Heffner pointed out. “This kind of music can go to more the lament and sorrow side of things.”

Though SYML may be a new artist to many Calvin students, Heffner is adamant that bringing a wide variety of acts to campus is the most valuable thing that the SAO can do. “We encourage students to take a chance and go to concerts of artists they don’t know. It’s important for [them] to know that the way that we’re doing student activities is not meant to be just entertaining—it’s meant to be arts education. For the most part, popular arts are seen as the disposable arts,” he added.  “We want to change that whole posture.”

In a rare opportunity, the SAO was able to bring in a local artist, Jes Kramer, as SYML’s opening act. Also an electronic-based musician, Kramer has a unique take on the genre. “She’s very self-consciously making music as a woman,” Heffner remarked.

Watching SYML perform was far more than just hearing music; it was a highly visual experience. Colorful backlights outlined Fennell sometimes as a shadowy silhouette, other times with blinding clarity. “The lights and stuff… [they feel] kind of homey,” Rockford-area eighth-grader Anna remarked after the concert. She and her friend were both previous fans and agreed that the multidimensional show sets SYML apart. Central Michigan student Isaac, who had driven two hours to attend the concert, added, “[SYML is] one of the best vocal performers I’ve seen … a very solid performance.”

However, Fennell proved throughout the concert and the following Q&A that he is more than just a good performer. His music is raw and extremely personal. Take the first two songs he composed as SYML, “War” and “Where’s My Love,” for example: “They’re just like an open diary,” he told the audience.

“[I hope that students’] artistic vocabularies would be expanded,” Heffner professed when asked what he wanted the audience to take away.  “[I want them to] hear things in that show that they didn’t know had a musical voice to them.”

Perhaps someone heard grief expressed in one of Fennell’s songs in a way that they never had before. Perhaps they identified with Jes Kramer’s distinctive message of life as a woman in 21st century America. Whatever the case, both artists had the audience captivated and listening not just to their unique musical sounds, but to the words that accompanied them.