When it comes to recorded music, the moribund can be lent a species of unholy life by a skilled producer.
That's what we suspect Chris Walla, formerly of Death Cab For Cutie, can be thanked for in his capacity as producer of Canadian singer-songwriter Mike Edel's new release, Thresholds. Like a master embalmer, he applies rouge to bloodless cheeks and adds expressiveness around the mouth, until you could swear the corpse is merely napping.
That isn't to say that Edel's songs aren't well crafted, they are largely faultless on paper. If called upon to comment on Thresholds, you would perhaps remark admiringly that it was "handsome," like a Tudor house or a purebred pony. But like those objects, Edel's songs are almost wincingly unchallenging — both lyrically and musically. Track one, for instance, opens with an uptempo drum beat, with plangent fifths plucked in strict tandem on guitar: U2, by way of Mumford and Sons, by way of something yet more diluted. After a couple of bars, Edel pipes up, hazily evoking religious doubt, reproach, heartbreak — all in that vowel-distorting, consonant-dropping cadence many a young singer seems to feel compelled to affect these days. (For an idea of what I mean, watch this video, entitled "Why All Indie Singers Sound Weirdly The Same.")
Again, though, credit must be given to the arrangers and knob-fiddlers behind this album, including Walla and possibly Edel himself: they have crafted a lovely sound with just enough bespoke qualities to distract from the actual songs, which, while not at all bad, are colored so thoroughly inside the lines, they barely graze them.
Matt Fink lives and works in Brooklyn. Go to organgrind.com for more of his work.
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