Musician T.J. Brown explores a desolate planet on ‘Strange Voyager’
The former Beyond Pluto frontman steps out on his own with a new album and an accompanying livestream performance set to take place tonight
In the years leading up to the pandemic, Beyond Pluto gradually whittled down from five members to one, with singer and songwriter T.J. Brown emerging as the lone holdout following percussionist Shane Kelson’s December 2019 move to Utah.
As a result, when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, Brown had already embraced the idea of working alone, returning to the solo musical experimentations that had fueled him prior to the formation of the band. These experiences — being thrust alone into an unfamiliar, pandemic-altered landscape — helped shape Brown’s new solo album, Strange Voyager, released today (Tuesday, Nov. 23) under the name TJ from Beyond. The 16-track LP, which arrives filled with robotic vocals and space-age synthesizers, centers on the tale of a cyborg that finds itself stranded on a desolate planet and embarks on a journey in which it explores not only its decimated surroundings, but itself.
“It’s all about someone synthetic trying to learn what it’s like to be human,” Brown said. “But he’s also in a situation where he’s crash-landed on this planet and he doesn’t have a choice. He’s just been thrust into ... the chaos of this planet, which was a thriving, technological place, but has become desolate.”
While aspects of the concept mirror Brown's experiences negotiating the early days of the pandemic, the musician initially conceptualized the album as a means of escaping the mundanity of life in the stay-at-home era.
“It was kind of like you’re tired of the same old stuff, and you’re tired of being stuck in your own bubble, and you’re tired of this whole planet and humans in general,” said Brown, who will livestream a performance tonight at 7 p.m. via Facebook and Instagram. “I just wanted to escape and get away from all of that, and maybe take listeners on that experience with me.”
Musically, Brown drew inspiration from synth-wave acts such as the Midnight, while the concepts driving Strange Voyager are shaped by 1980s films that include “The Terminator,” which the musician recently revisited with his wife (the two wed last year amid the pandemic), and which had a marked impact on the big-screen scope of the record. “There’s a cinematic feel at times, like a terminator chasing you down a dark alley,” Brown said.
Despite being concocted as a way to escape reality, upon stepping back from the project Brown said he realized how much the record had actually been shaped by events of the last 20-plus months.
“When you go back and look at it later, that’s when you realize how much everything was affecting you at the time,” Brown said. “Sometimes the world can be dark and cruel, and why not enjoy that darkness and cruelty from a lens, from a telescope, where you’re further away … and can’t get sucked into it. … And it’s nice that this album can do that, in a way.”
In the bigger picture, Brown said the album and the journey of self-discovery undertaken by its cyborg protagonist reflect a mindset he’s adopted since the final remnants of Beyond Pluto dissolved, opening up an increasingly limitless musical future.
“In terms of finding myself, I learned that, as a creative person, it’s easy to get stuck inside your own bubble,” he said. “Sometimes you’d see other musical sounds or styles and be like, ‘Wow, I wish I could be more like that,’ and it wasn’t until [Strange Voyager] where I started to see that it’s not impossible, and that maybe I can do this.”