Album opener "Count To Three" from The Short Waves album Lucky could be a standard acoustic pop strummer, like something by Ed Sheeran. But The Short Waves' Keith Scott lists Jim O' Rourke, John Martyn, and Broken Social Scene as some of his formative influences. All of those bands begin with the pop/folk/rock format of guitars, bass, drums and vocals daisy-chained into verse-chorus-verse exultations and swan dives.
It's easy to get jaded with pop music thinking you've heard it all. That's like saying because you've seen one movie, you've seen all movies. Or having a conversation with one person from China means you've talked to every Chinese person. It's nonsense.
The point of life, after all, is in the details. No matter how many times we enter the hall, we gather night after night to watch performers stalk the bandstands beneath dusty spotlights, transforming their daily lives, their hopes and dreams, into an alchemy of fingers on strings and raw, straining vocal chords. It's the simplest, most basic, most beautiful thing on the Earth. Especially when an artist is working within accepted formats - in this case, artful pop/folk rock - we have to judge the specifics, like presentation, musicality, ambition and how well you think they pulled it off.
It's sort of the bitter joke of music journalism that no matter how much time you spend perfecting the perfect album review, no matter how many witty quips and barbed insights on music from all corners of time & space, there still isn't really an accepted commonality on what's "good" and what isn't. It's part of why I have a job, thank the dark lords, but it's also a responsibility. Most of the time, it begins with the simple switch "I like this" or "I don't." Although I have spent thousands of hours learning how to listen to every kind of music, doing my utter damnedest to remove my reviewer's bias, I can't completely. Nor would I really want to. I like what I like, and sing its praises to the high heavens. Let those that dig plastic, formulaic top-40-with-no-other-reason-to-exist pop wax enthusiastic about it. Add some years to my life.
From the first notes of "Count To Three" I was in. The presentation on Lucky is subtle and understated. Expect no psych freak-outs or floating house remixes. It's just Keith Scott, mostly acoustic guitar with the occasional overdub, and odd bits of percussion, like the rolling railroad rhythm on "Retaliation Blues." Double-tracked guitars and a lone voice is downright skeletal in 2015, when even 15-year-old drum 'n bass producers have 300 tracks on their SoundCloud demos.
As with most things in life, the words, the music and the presentation add up to an intangible, ineffable living creature that is Lucky. As with Scott's inspiration Jim O' Rourke, the basic rock/folk/pop pallet is skewed and stretched to a new form of abstract expressionism. You can hear it in the first falling guitar chords, the first ragged vocals which are smooth as silk yet warm as smoldering cedar. It sounds like nearly every song ever, but the pace is allegro, mellow, chilled. Time seems to slow to a crawl, letting you analyze the sunlight, the breeze and shadows. All because of the way Scott records his vocals and guitars.
It's the mark of a true artist and a true craftsman. Keith Scott has a rich inner world, which ripples slowly outward from Lucky, drawing you in and making you a nice cup of tea.Let it never be said that art Is dead. Or rock. Or folk. Or hope.
There is still life in these old bones, when they're strung up in interesting new configurations and presented in a unique flickering half-light.
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