I remember back in the day when Odelay was released and looking at the credits and realizing that Beck Hansen played most of the instruments I was awestruck. Thinking one man could play all those instruments was quite impressive. This is the same thing we find with Patrick Stelle aka Balla Dear who plays an arsenal of instruments on his new album entitled Knife and Novice. He picks up the harmonica, ukulele, e-bow, djembe and guitar to name a few in addition to singing his heart out. None of this would matter if the music weren’t up to par. Luckily, this is an incredibly heartfelt album drenched in emotion and Americana not unlike that of Fleet Foxes. The album sounds great top to bottom as the vocals are beautifully sung and the arrangements are meticulously crafted and implemented. These are the type of songs that can remind one of a simpler time, when the plains in America were as vast as our optimism. Some songs are melancholy yet hopeful, tragic yet inspiring. A great combination of emotions that pull your attention to the song and don’t let go until the album is over.
The album starts with “Introduction (Heart of Gold)” which contains soulful vocals as the centerpiece while a rusty acoustic guitar and harmonica are played in the background. It’s a rather somber piece that got my attention. Things pick up a bit with “Jangle of My Heart” which introduces rhythmic elements as well as an unbridled exuberance that was hard to ignore. The vocals were again heartfelt and I thoroughly enjoyed the addition of the background vocals which were subtle but added a lot of substance. “I Dream At the Gate” was one of the best songs on the album. The harmonized vocals were absolutely wonderful and reminded me of something I might have heard on the “Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack. While some of the later songs didn’t fare as well as the first half of the album I still enjoyed them. This is an album that makes you realize how integral it is to keep the human element alive in music. No program can replicate the emotional dexterity that is required to produce this. Knife and Novice is ultimately an album that reminds us that we aren’t only connecting with the sounds that we hear but the human making them.
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