I am most certain that somewhere in my two-plus year oeuvre reviewing hundreds of different artists records and EP’s that I have on numerous occasions taken pot shots, sometimes well intentioned and at other times perhaps less deservingly, at both the singer/songwriter genre and the use of garage band as the plebian-cum-rockstar’s recording tool of choice.
On the occasion I did resort to harsh criticism and finger pointing much of it was centered on a largely acoustic act built of songs that were obviously the result of a bitter breakup with lyrics culled from the lexicon of a jilted lover. As for the use of Garage Band I only sought to point out that the artists in question had seemed to think there was only one control setting, or that anything that was recorded with a bit of fuzz and some tape hiss could pass as lo-fi indie rock.
Given my diatribe above I was presently surprised, alright perhaps that’s an understatement, I was pretty much blown away as I read into the bio of Area Resident. First off Area Resident is a one-man operation brought to you buy multi-instrumentalist Doug Hempstead, an area resident himself of Canada’s Ottawa Valley. His self-titled debut Area Resident begins with the full band sounding “Threshold.” It’s an upbeat piece of indie-pop tinged with Americana.
The full band sound comes straight from Hempstead, who records anywhere from twenty- to twenty-eight tracks for each song. Hempstead likens his songwriting to a “pottery wheel approach” saying that he writes each song as he goes along. First he finds a hook and then builds the song around that, which probably explains the intense and instant likability to his songs. On “About Six Years” it comes from a catchy guitar riff matched with an equally catchy synth riff, and on “Brown Carpet to Cover the Stairs,” the dark synth and steely guitar riffs draw one in, as do the spacey vocal effects. Later on “Hole in Time” it is a synth and bass and a running in place style drum beat and up-tempo vocals that draws the listener in.
But not every song on Area Resident sounds as complete as others. “Lock Arm Panic” at a little over the two-minute mark seems snuffed out in its prime and “Six Million Dollar Man is Gone,” sounds like an attempt to write a Neil Young song while under the influence of too much David Bowie. Then comes the ostentatious “Synthesizer Uniform,” which as one would expect is bursting at the seams with synth but fails to have the same power as earlier offerings. Redemption is found on the straightforward, short and sweet mellow synth-rocker “True Story,” and likewise on the mixed media of ‘70s psych rock meets ‘80s electronica.
Area Resident is one of the most solid releases I have had the pleasure of reviewing this year. Not only was I drawn in by the songs themselves, entertained and then some, I was also given cause to think about the making of art in general. Doug Hempstead’s songwriting and recording process is to me, and likely will be to others, a fresh perspective on creativity. However there is also hiding behind all these overdubs and multiple tracks a fierce passion and discipline that makes Area Resident stand out from his contemporaries.
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