Edmonton, Alberta singer/songwriter Andrew Pahl recorded his first bunch of songs on a four-track recorder back in 1997. Although Pahl admitted to himself that the songs were awful, he also admitted that he had the music bug. Over the next several years Pahl continued to record shoddy demo tapes and played in a few different bands. Then in 2006 he released the album Dreams Deferred and began to play shows around Canada, one of which included a performance at the 2008 Western Canadian Music Awards. Pahl took a break for a few years before releasing 2010’s Forgotten Ones which was soon followed by The Wood Between the Worlds in 2011. Now three years later Pahl has released the six-song EP Shadows.
Fans of Pahl’s previous work may find Shadows a bit hard to swallow at first. Though Pahl has never been one to concentrate too closely on happy themes, his old material will seem rather singsong when compared to the six bleak songs that comprise Shadows. That’s because these songs are not about breakups but about death, failure and regret. They go to much deeper and darker recesses than anything Pahl has ever written before. The reason being, Pahl explains in the liner notes, is that it is about a former co-worker who’d gotten himself into trouble with drugs and ended up dying of a blood infection caused by using a dirty needle. On many of these songs, Pahl wrestles with the questions; did I do enough to help? Could I have done more?
The opening track “Closer” is an acoustically delightful dirge with a singsong chorus, backed with sweet childlike backing vocals. However the music acts as a mask, hiding the pain and suffering that the lyrics hint at as with the lines, “My mind is gone/ My brain is frosted over/ Insanity is inching closer, closer”.” The same techniques are employed on “Lost in Your Shadow” that drives on through rocking and rolling like a Ryan Adams rock song.
Strangely enough when Pahl tries to write sappy sounding love songs, it just comes out wrong, like on “Changes” a loveless sounding lament, which falls a bit flat. This is much the same for “Death Comes in All Colours” a sprawling and sad sounding piano pop ode to his dead friend, which comes off sounding like contemporary Christian Rock.
The album finishes with the slow and sprawling acoustic “Take Me in Your Arms,” which Pahl writes from the perspective of his dead friend, imagining how he must have felt during his final days. Here everything that worked so well on previous tracks comes together to culminate into the records most beautiful track and serves as a fond farewell and tribute to a friend.
Anytime one sets out to make a themed album, the cards immediately become stacked against them. There is always the chance the album will become too sappy, and it always seems a fine line that the artist in question must walk, to not let feelings get in the way of truth. Though on Shadows, Pahl has walked that tightrope rather well, and in immortalizing his friend has made a fine record.
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