Reed Alspach has been sculpting this album for a few years now. He's played before, with family and friends and Unconscious and Delighted is his first solo outing and debut album and let's get on with the review.
The opener to this debut is called "Wake Up" but it doesn't specify how it will wake you up. The song pokes and then punches, beginning with singular percussion and ending with the drizzle of a guitar, but in between is an elaborate display of music that draws from heavy metal and international scales. With an intro like this, there are few limits to what Unconscious and Delighted could be.
Which brings us to "Machine.” Opening with a Paul Simon-esque acoustic number, it seems like nice, easy listening for about three and a half minutes. Then the feedback and coked-out riffs start appearing out of nowhere and I'm all "Huh?!" For the next two or so minutes, the song ascends to great heights, with some of the most pleasing guitar saw buzz sounds I've heard in some time. It's an interesting experiment, in one song, and executed far more effectively than most artists (balancing sound is trickier than it sounds) might do. Then it goes back to being Simon-esque and I'm all cool.
This is where it gets infuriating.
The next two tracks are pleasant but safe acoustic numbers that precede the awesome "Refugee," a shoe gazing good time that uses both anthemic percussion and rhythm slower, more dramatic guitar fuzz build-ups. It approaches composition the same way "Machine" does – quiet than loud. Then the next two tracks, more safe acoustic tracks until we get to the closer, the finely crafted "Flower." Darker than its siblings, with subdued string harmonies in the background while Alspach juxtaposes slow, sad guitar chords and what sounds like handclaps ushers in the end of the album. "Don't leave me right now / I'll die / my flower." It's a simple but destructive line, aided by the music surrounding it as Alspach aloofly plays guitar while fading into the end of his first album.
Now, whatever gripes I have about this album, I have to say this: Alspach never breaks character. His vocal delivery is damn good, whether on the predominantly acoustic tracks or his noisier experiments. His voice is youthful, full of cracks, yes, but dead-on earnest. If you don't believe the instrumentation, believe the voice; the man loves making music. This is Alspach's labor of love, and we hear it in lines like "I've learned not to trust anybody but me / the mirror's the only place I'll find honesty" and there are moments of genuine thanks and genuine paranoia spread throughout the album, the effects, I suspect, of his background.
But let’s get back to the sequencing. The acoustic numbers are not bad. They shine, they smile, but they ultimately leave little impact despite Alspach's talent as a lyricist. If the album were chock full of moments like the badass Billy Joel-would-be-proud guitar work in "Refugee" or the brilliantly executed string sample/authentic string dynamic in "Flower" this review would be very different. Alspach, you are a damn good guitarist, and you know your way around some fantastic ideas – exploit that, never settle for safe.
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