I am hesitant to refer to James Burke as a singer-songwriter even though that is the technical term most associated with solo performers these days. But to me and I am sure to countless others as well, the term often conjures up the image of a solo acoustic soul alone onstage or in the studio strumming and singing his or her heart out and more often than not spouting off the same empathy seeking idioms used by countless clones before them.
The term that would then best describe James Burke is perhaps one-man band as he plays guitar, bass, drums and sings on his latest album I’m Melting. When speaking of his process, the nineteen-year-old Boston area native said, “I write and record alone and the feeling of isolation seeps into both the music and the lyrics.” For as melancholy as this sounds, Burke never falls into the trap of where he sounds so alone that I’m Melting becomes more for himself than something he’s able to share.
After a short opening montage fuzzy electric guitars I’m Melting bursts open with “What's On Your Mind?” It starts out the uppity and lo-fi and then changes direction, modeling itself after the fuzzy opener with layers of crystalline guitars paired with Burke’s wispy slacker-pop vocals. These vocal stylings are an even better match with the stripped down and slow moving “Sonny.”
Burke is not afraid to experiment with variety on I’m Melting and “Gotta Get Away” a poppy dance-punk track that just sort of falls apart near the end is a good example of that as is “Mind Turned Off” which sounds like a collaboration between Pavement and The Strokes. Not every experiment works such as the time-consuming entitled “Please Excuse Every Aspect of My Present and Future Self” which sounds as though it was a first take jam session. Nor does “Blind” which sounds like a drunken phone message to an ex-girlfriend that just happens to be set to music. Burke however finishes I’m Melting on a strong note with “Immortality” with its ethereal beach-pop wah-wah guitars.
The best moments on I’m Melting occur when Burke is measuring up his youth versus an older crowd of people and singing about that uncertainty of youth. Looking at things from a much older perspective myself, I can say that feeling of uncertainty never really goes away, which should leave Burke with plenty of material for the next few decades.
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