From Austin, Texas comes singer/songwriter Scott Standley who has just released his striking and unusual choral album VICTORIA. People often describe music with the phrase “you’ve never heard anything like this before” but in this case it’s 100% true. Standley has created a musical hybrid of artists he heard growing up (Bonnie Raitt and Lyle Lovett on one side, choral hymns and folk standards on the other) with his current favorite artists (Bon Iver, Perfume Genius, Frank Ocean, Sufjan Stevens).
Standley’s earliest musical experience was playing a lap dulcimer with his grandparents in Victoria, Texas. His professional career started by performing with the rock groups Jungleset and ChooChoo and the percussion group Resonate. He describes VICTORIA as “a heavily choral album that combines a wide mixture of influences (including) blues, Neo soul, folk standards, hymns, dusty slide guitars, experimental vocals and analog synth elements.” Scott states that the original idea for this album was to create “cosmic hymns” blending his old southern influences with a modern world. Thematically it was influenced by our old pal Covid-19 with Standley aiming to “cut through the anxiety and find some peace.”
Writing and recording took place at Standley’s Chicago home studio using Logic and the old Apogee Ensemble Firewire. Bandmate Ryan Imboden added keys and synth. Davis Jones played flute and saxophone and also mixed the album in Logic with prominent use of the Vocal Rider plugin to get consistent levels on the vocals. Mastering was by Will Patterson including a final pass onto analogue tape.
“Ready” opens with Standley’s lead vocals atop his choral overdubs swirling and strobing in the background, supported by acoustic instruments, clapping and whistling. It sounds both familiar and unsettling. I was thinking equal parts Fleet Foxes, spiritual hymns and African vocal music as Paul Simon purloined it for “Graceland.” At one point the backing vocals are electronically dropped a full octave. The dulcimer adds an unexpected magical touch. “Delicate Strong” creates a soulful vibe with even more thick chorus vocals. It’s clear by now that Standley’s using auto tune on the background vocals, but it’s weird how perfect it sounds for this project, even when it seems to be digitally imploding.
“Simple Sweet” has a Brian Wilson “Pet Sounds” vibe, as if refracted through an audio kaleidoscope. I especially like how this song builds itself over little “blocks” of sound, as the vocals and the instruments seem like they’re one organism, moving and stopping with intuitive sync. “You Got It” has a Stevie Wonder sheen and vocal complexity. The lyrics are simple but perfect for the song: “You got it / You deserve it / You’ll finish / You’re perfect.”
“Driving” again channels the Fleets both lyrically and musically with maybe a dash of Hozier. The spacey, wobbly synths are quite intriguing here. Somewhat similar is “Dusting Off Hell,” a track that flirts with becoming a more traditional tune: lovely lead vocals, moody synths and sweet slabs of electric guitar. I found myself going back to this track a few times. “Delicate Strong Reprise” is a quick one-minute recap of the album’s second track. “Before All That” is another short song that wears its spiritual roots on its sleeve. “The Whole Time” ends the collection with vocals that sound a bit less processed at first, for a more natural feel. This doesn’t last, however, as the weird pitching and tuning returns full force along with natty electric guitars, more clapping and busy analogue synths.
As I’ve already stated, this music was quite different from anything I’ve heard before, even though the individual elements are familiar. It’s audacious in its presentation but quite beautiful. Where Standley goes from here I can’t even imagine, but I’m sure it’s gonna be somewhere good!
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