There are (at least) two ways you can go about writing about music. The first, and most common, is to scrutinize a work critically, measuring its breadth, its depth, its commentary on the world at large, its place in the lineage in which it sits. The second is to simply gush, heaping adverbs and superlatives like fruit at the base of some secret altar. The first is more common and they both have their shortcomings, but you need a little bit of both to successfully communicate the hidden heart of music.
The danger with the critical approach to writing about music, which is often overlooked, is there is an inherent, almost invisible, allegiance to the marketplace. People need to say why, exactly, X record is the only of its kind, or the best since blank, and in this viewpoint, things that sound like other things is no good thing. The problem is, that's not really how musicians think, nor is it representative of a lot of people's careers.
James M Carson is an acoustic singer/songwriter from a small town called Bolton, in Northwestern England. He speaks openly of his love for Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley, George Harrison and Ryan Adams in his notes, as well as a yearning for "the simpler times of Laurel Canyon when the quest for melody was king." I suspect that "Nothing Is Lost" sounds A LOT like Elliott Smith's "Rose Parade" with more of a rootsy, Fleetwood Mac stomp, and is just as thrilling and breathtaking as when Elliott did it, and makes it even more spellbinding when a chorus breaks down into a warm molasses Bee Gees harmony, with even a touch of pedal slide guitar, as if this song needed to be any more entirely awesome than it already was.
Carson also tips his hat to power pop, the insanely infectious hooks of Cheap Trick and Big Star, which too many people either interpret as "just pop" or else shitty punk music without the attitude. Everyone seems to miss the sweet spot. Carson's got the catchy melodicism down cold. I don't hear too much of the glam jackboot swagger of pure power pop, so I don't really think that's what he's going for. Again, he's creating elixirs, deadly delicious combinations of everything he's ever seen or heard.
And when it's all said and done his album Sold As Scene sounds unique and distinctive. Yes, it crawls through the dust like The Handsome Family on "Once A Mighty Oak" and "Money (We Don't Need)" sounds like a finger style instrumental of The Beatles' "Julia." I absolutely adore every musician that's been name checked in this review, and it makes me love this short 'n sweet album all the more.
Whatever influences, whatever tradition, you still have to spin the web yourself, which is where the stealing argument breaks down. Making a good sounding record is tough, trust me. Carson never misses a beat - everything is finely tuned, polished and placed to perfection. The vocals harmonize effortlessly, the guitars are sterling clear and ferociously tuned. There is a gentle breathing air around every element, and frankly, it makes me a little green around the gills that part of this, the drums, were recorded in Carson's bedroom at home. Well, rappers with huge budgets no longer have any excuses. People are making Phil Spector wonders in their homes and at small studios.
Sold As Scene is a wonder. It sounds monumental and never misses a beat. It's talented, precocious, imaginative, but heartfelt. It's rustic, it's psychedelic; it's rooted in the past, but is living in the NOW. Anyone with ears will love this EP.
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