Saturday, 24 November 2007

Close to Paradise, by Patrick Watson (2006)

1 Close to Paradise 5:02
2 Daydreamer 4:34
3 Slip Into Your Skin 3:37
4 Giver 3:27
5 Weight of the World 4:40
6 The Storm 3:12
7 Mr. Tom 2:48
8 Luscious Life 3:09
9 Drifters 4:27
10 Man Under the Sea 3:29
11 The Great Escape 3:07
12 Sleeping Beauty 5:33
13 Bright Shiny Lights 2:34

Solo artists are more likely to be classified as baroque pop than bands. Perhaps it's because they are free to give vent to their artistic vision, without being constrained by having to keep the band's rhythm section occupied? Therefore, finding a baroque pop band is a rare pleasure. (The bassist will sometimes play the glockenspiel, whilst the drummer seems content noodling around on all kinds of percussion.)

Despite its name, Patrick Watson is a band, with a member of the name, (kinda like Manfred Mann I guess). They hail from Montreal and this is their second CD. They're a four-piece - keyboard, guitar, bass and drums - although a lot of other instruments have cameos in the mix too.

At the time of writing they seem to be busy touring, trying to build fanbase in Europe, so far with limited media exposure. I believe the CD has been relaunched in Europe for the tour.
Their sound world is somewhere between Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Tom Waits and Rufus Wainwright. The songs on the CD are varied and interesting, with keyboard and guitar augmented by strings, horns and some studio trickery. Classical influences are easy to detect, particularly Debussy, Satie and Weill, and they enhance the texture of the music considerably. (Three of the band met at music college.)

As well as being a creative songwriter Patrick Watson has a striking voice, with the tone of Nick Drake and Nina Simone.

Close to Paradise makes for a very accessible opening with its sustained slide guitar providing obvious echoes of Pink Floyd. It also establishes the strong axis of keyboard and guitar that underpins much of the music.

The Erik Satie influence first appears in Daydreamer, a disconcerting keyboard scale is mixed with what sounds like backward loop samples. A banjo adds further texture as the tune gets going.

Slip into your Skin is the collection's first ballad, a charming 3/4 tune, keyboard, bass guitar, brushed drumkit and a heap of harmonies. Soft horns add still more class.

Giver seems a little more orthodox, but closer inspection reveals clever shifts in time signatures. The bass guitar adds nice little counterpoints to the vocal line.

Tom Waits would be proud of a song like Weight of the World, with its creepy fairground vibe. Watson plays an instrumental that looks like a keyboard and sounds like an accordian. Anyone know what it's called? Strings and horns, including a tuba(?), are beautifully arranged.

A picked acoustic guitar lick provides the introduction for The Storm, but soon things get more complex, with electric guitar, girly backing singers and more backward loopy things. A great track. (My pick for a download).

Mr Tom is an instrumental, a piano-based tune in 6/8 with a clear nod to Erik Satie again. Add some Dark Side of the Moon spoken voice samples and you've got the idea.

Luscious Life is a seemingly orthodox band number, quite straightforward, although largely in 7/8 time!

A rapid arpeggio piano introduces Drifters, a uptempo and melodious song, filled with harmonies again. What I like on Drifters (as on so many of the songs here) is that there's always something happening, a new instrument, a key change, a tempo change, a strip back, and that makes for an interesting listen.

The highlight of this creative set of songs is the Beatle-esque Man Under the Sea. It shares many good attributes with previous songs, but adds a joyous epic climax. The song is a keystone of PW's live show, although the version they perform is surprisingly different. See the links below.

OK, here's the thing...had I been their record company, I'd have ended the CD right at this point, however there are three more tracks to go:

If PW are know for anything it's probably The Great Escape, a melancholic ballad featured in Grays Anatomy. It's a good song of its type, but I don't know if it sits well with the previous tracks.

Quite simply, Sleeping Beauty should have been left on the cutting room floor. It feels like it was picked up off the floor and reassembled. There are some interesting moments towards the end, but suffers from the lack of a good tune.

Bright Shining Lights is an elegiac gospel song, complete with hammond organ. A good song, but I'm not sure it belongs on this CD.

Recommended? YES, highly recommended to fans of baroque pop. An interesting and very musical CD that could dominate your music system as it has mine. See them live while they're still in smaller venues.

A cute live performance of Man Under the Sea (well worth staying with this until 3:30!)

The Great Escape