Random Bags is the debut and first compilation of songs for singer/songwriter Michael Patrick Russell. Russell hails out of Chicago, a 27-year-old, but he spent his time up north in the woods of Wisconsin to create and record the album. This is a raw and sincere compilation of emotive songs that he is sharing with the world. The album is a reflection of who he is as a musician and a songwriter.
The album starts out with the track “Love Light” which could have comparisons to an artist like Sparklehorse or Elliott Smith. These similarities continue as the album progresses. "Love Light" contains a lo-fi drum beat, distorted vocals and clean guitar which work quite well together. Wait till the end where something unexpected happens.
One of the glaring aspects of Random Bags, evident in songs like “Goodbye To The Ghost” or “50 Days of Signage,” is that while the lyricism and word choice has great flow and rhythm, and is often poetic and exciting, the overall melody and rhythm of the songs are low key, mellow and tranquil. It’s arguable that the album as a whole could use more energy and dynamics. That being said it fits a niche mood that maybe more appealing if you are in a contemplative possibly nostalgic mood.
At the same time, it seems that Russell has not fully committed to a sound on this record. The general sound and style of the album tends to hop around quite a bit. In the song “Emotional Man,” for example, the voice changes compared to the other tracks. It’s almost as if someone else is singing. It also goes back to the more electronic, robotic sounding vibe from the first track but then flips back to the acoustic style in the following song. The juxtaposition of vocal effects was unique if arguably a little too different sounding.
He closes with "50 Days Of Signage" which contains palatable melodies. It's possibly the most emotionally resonant song out of the batch.
Russell has some talent in the songwriting department but there is still a lot he can improve regarding the production. The doubled vocal harmonies were often stepping on each other and too obvious. They could have been blended in the mix better. Listening to doubled vocals on a Neutral Milk Hotel record or Elliott Smith album where it essentially sounds like one thick vocal is the sound I think he should go after. There are some other minor issues you hear in 98% of DIY recordings that will no doubt improve if he continues to learn about production and engineering.
Overall, there is a lot to appreciate on this album. Fans of artists like Sufjan Stevens, Elliott Smith and Sparklehorse will want to keep on eye on this artist. Excited to see how this singer/songwriter continues to sharpen in the next few years.
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