Review Summary: The album title is not only ironic, its also untrue, as Hand Built By Robots is a stunning showcase of emotion, all wrapped up in a neat little folk-pop package.
Though comparisons to other folk artists are inevitable, Newton Faulkner defies most of them during the 43 minute run time of his debut album. From the first notes of “Intro” through to its seamless transition into “To The Light”, it seems he might fall into the same category as John Butler or Tallest Man On Earth. Even when the synths come in at the end of “To The Light” it isn’t enough to pull him out of that box. Its not until the opening chords of “Dream Catch Me” that he sets himself apart from his contemporaries. When those chords grace your ears, it’s then that you realise, neither Butler nor Mattson would ever produce something this upbeat.
“Ah, here we go,” you say, “So he’s just a happy folk singer?”
Not quite, there’s more to him, and this album, than just that.
Think of the ups and downs you have in daily life, and then imagine them put into words and sung on an album. Hand Built By Robots
is that album. I’ll be damned if you can’t relate to Faulkner’s moody sincerity in “Uncomfortably Slow”, particularly when he almost pleads “So don’t take my photograph, cause I don’t wanna know how it looks to feel like this.” Or to his sheer honesty in “People Should Smile More” (“I can’t change the world because trying to make a difference makes it worse”) You’ll also find numerous references to daydreams and escaping reality, from the ridiculousness of “Gone In The Morning” to the more serious takes on the subject, like “Dream Catch Me”. Not a daydreamer? Try songs like the slow-burning “Teardrop”, a cover of the Massive Attack song. It contains arguably Faulkner’s best vocal performance, with a soaring chorus that captivates unlike anything else.
Most of the time the guitar work is skilfully subtle finger-picking and guitar tapping rhythms. Though it might have been able to sustain the instrumental section, it’s never forced to hold that weight for long, a wise choice in hind-sight. Electro-pop influences come to fruition on several occasions, such as the aforementioned “To The Light”. Hell, the very fact that he covered a Massive Attack song shows at least some interest in the genre. The drums aren’t too bad either, nothing overly special (this is a pop album for godsakes) but they still produce some interesting sections, like the bass rhythm in “Gone In The Morning”. The one piano ballad (“Straight Towards The Sun”) slots in quite nicely as well, there isn’t a hint of forced sentimentality to be found anywhere on it.
In fact, the whole album is remarkably sincere. You can’t help but be drawn in to Faulkner’s down-in-the-dumps story in “Uncomfortably Slow”, while songs like “Dream Catch Me” seem to speak directly to our deepest desires. Unlike what the album title would suggest, Hand Built By Robots
is anything but emotionless. It’s the exact opposite, tied together with a wonderful mix of folk and electro-pop.