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David Thomas Broughton – It’s In There Somewhere…

April 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Birdwar Records, 2007

I needed to look at this album cover for a little while before I noticed the tree’s branches.  Clever!  Even if they were just a bunch of tangled tree branches that didn’t hint at the artist involved I still would have picked this album up for the art alone.  A very simple white background with light pencil sketches that hint at serenity is enough for me to spend a dollar on a chance.  Unlike paintings and drawings that cost $50-$200 at a local gallery, getting a pleasing piece of art in the form of a small, glossy square is not only more affordable but also nice to gaze at when the music plays.  Problem is where does one find a bunch of really small, square picture frames to hang these in around the apartment?  Perhaps I should’ve bought the vinyl version instead …

David Thomas Broughton, from the land of Britain, is not interested in conventional solo compositions.  Much of his music is layered with multiple versions of keyboards, acoustic guitar, and his own voice.  His vocals come across as a wispy mumble, altogether vulnerable and humble, so it is rather difficult to hear what he’s trying to say clearly.  With everything that is going on (albeit quietly), I suppose one can appreciate each song on its surface first as a composition of sounds, then going back to try to pick out the elements.  This includes those lyrics, which Broughton thankfully has up on his website for easier clarification.

One of the early, signifying tracks on the record is “Gracefully Silent”.  Listening to “Gracefully Silent” for a few minutes, I realized that it didn’t change much from a discordant harmonica or keyboard sound, over-layered mumbling, and lightweight confusion.  I soon caught on that it wasn’t just for a few minutes, but eight minutes.  Eight minute repetitive epic!  Normally I would skip ahead and lay waste to the song with words but I never got near the skip button because I found the track oddly calming.  I think that harmonica sound (which may be played backwards) sounds mournful enough to make me want to hear it again … and again … but that might not be your thing.  This song may grate on one’s patience if one is in a hurry, so I suggest not being in a hurry to truly enjoy it!

Other tracks resemble “Gracefully Silent” in their humility.  The sounds are so gentle and timid on “Interlude 1” that the cameo of a drum beat in the background comes off like a bully.  “I Don’t Want to Believe You” has a muffled Broughton singing like a blues man amidst a few light guitars strumming and what sounds like an endless slide of a slide guitar.  I like that the song doesn’t settle for just a vocal and guitar pairing and instead adds more depth with the extra accompaniments.  “Nature” is a rare song in that Broughton actually pots up his voice to the front over the most rock ‘n roll his guitar strumming is going to get.  It’s another epic at six minutes, and during the song Broughton creates a sound that resembles his efforts in pushing a straw back and forth through a fast food plastic drink cover.  Yeah, it’s an eerie sound that carries on for about three minutes, but at this point it is to be expected.  Like I said, Broughton isn’t interested in conventional compositions.

Although you can find Broughton’s music on MySpace, I think you should take some time to also have a look at some of his great drawings (scroll down).  Sure, they are human/animal compositions you wouldn’t want to see in your dreams, but perhaps if you put you hand over half the creature you’ll soak up the artistically normal a bit more.

Broughton’s style is one of the more unique sounds I’ve heard in awhile.  It’s pleasing to the ear on the whole, but if one is used to something more traditional in their singer-songwriters then this experimental folk style can be difficult to traverse if listened too closely.  Still, I like it enough and would be interested in hearing what Broughton conjures up in his later releases.  He has managed to put out a record in 2011 entitled “Outbreeding”, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for that not only for the music but also for whatever mammal concoctions Broughton has drawn up recently.  By the way, if you happen to be in the United Kingdom this summer he’s apparently going to be on tour during June.  Given that much of the music on this album is layered many times over, it would be interesting to see how it plays out live.  Let me know if you go!

Self-Reflection: Bargains Vs. Busts

April 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Something that has lingered in my mind every time I write a review is my evaluation of my own critique.  In life I like to believe that I am open-minded and am willing to give everything a chance.  Just the other day a friend of mine said he wanted a group of people to go out for Ethiopian food.  I immediately paused and tried to recall if I ever had Ethiopian food before and, if I had, whether I liked it or not.  My friend looked at the obvious consternation on my face and declared that hey, I’ll probably like it since he knows I’ve tried many types of cuisine before.  Well that was nice to hear!  Considering I had no idea what to expect, it turned out that I enjoyed the meal even without the utensils.  So, perhaps I tend to find something good out of most situations even if the original outlook might seem worrisome.

This seems to be the case with my music reviews as well.  Looking at my Past Reviews there has to be something like a 3:1 ratio of Bargains:Busts.  Either I am selling everyone a load of goods when it comes to my reviews or I am actually finding quite a lot of fine albums for very cheap.  If I was quick to judge then it might be the former, but I have to stand by the fact that I am being honest with my reviews.  I sometimes have to slog through a record two or three times just to find something to write about that doesn’t resemble hate or apathy.  There are quite a few times when I wish I had the guts to just write “Ah, it was alright around the middle but a few songs were just awful.” and be done with it.  Giving things a few listens seems to conjure up remote feelings of interest, so maybe that is why some Bargains arose from The Rest and, of course, much of The Rest from the depths of Busts.

Perhaps I should wield more of an iron fist?  Declare that two or three tracks are not enough to save an album from widespread (okay, village-like spread) shunning?  I could do that.  I could point at a rack of dollar bin records and, before even listening to them, declare that it is likely that 80% of it is an improper use of plastic and disc-making machines.  But man, that would be terribly dishonest.  There’s tons of great music out there, even in those two or three tracks amidst the dreck of ill-conceived ideas that make up an album.  I’m not sure how many of these albums that I deem listenable are truly front-to-back worthy of spinning for most people, but I think they should get at least one run through to hear what I’m talking about.  Maybe there’s a few songs that should get another spin at that.

Going forward, I feel that the 3:1 ratio will likely stay the same if not branch wider into a 4:1 ratio.  I’m sure there will still be albums that I won’t be able to recommend to anybody, but as with every review, it’s only my opinion.  My … traditionally optimistic opinion, that is.