Review Summary: Waior does something heroic.
I'm a straight guy, but I'm going to just throw this out there: Morgan Freeman has a sexy voice. It's deep, it's soothing...if there were an app that simply had his voice saying, "It's time to sleep now," I would never buy another overpriced mattress again. You know who else has a sexy voice? Chris Martin of Coldplay...wait, no, let me finish! Chris Martin of Coldplay while he's singing "Yes." I grew up with that cracking falsetto in "The Scientist," and trust me, that's not sexy...so when he trades it in for a deep baritone on "Yes," I get all surprised, and I just imagine girls throwing themselves on him even more than they probably were before, and that's
sexy. You know who else
has a sexy voice? Caleb McAlpine.
Yeah, that's right. I said it. Caleb Mcfu
ckingAlpine has a sexy voice.
Actually, let me take that back. Caleb McAlpine has a voice that sounds like John Mayer without the incessant wheeze. If you enjoy that wheeze (as Caleb himself professed he does), then maybe Caleb's voice isn't so sexy. But, if you're like me, and would love John Mayer more if he had a bit more substance in his vocals, then yes, Caleb McAlpine has a sexy voice, which works out pretty well, really, considering that vocals are front and center on almost every song of this seven-song EP of his, called 'Science Fiction'
. Even better, because his voice is suited perfectly for the music he creates.
Take, for instance, opener "I Was Wrong," 'Science Fiction'
's most blatant Minus the Bear imitation. There's an impressive 0:46 second intro in which the primary sound switches from a pulsing, lounge-jazz-infused romp of drums, piano and guitar, to an earthy bass line that demands your complete attention...that is, until those silky vocals come in at 0:47. From that second on, Caleb's voice is the star attraction of the song, and rightfully so (sex sells, they say).
But you don't sell out a production with only one single attractive member of the cast, especially if said cast member has to carry the show by themselves (and the vocals, while amazing, are not meant to carry this entire thing)...so naturally, Caleb whored out his hands to be proficient at every instrument on the album. And proficient, they are, as demonstrated by the seamlessness in which Mr. McAlpine switches musical styles from experimental alt-rock to indie folk. Songs like "A Happy Song,"
which is (surprise, surprise) a happy song straight from the heart of Americana, works just fine right next to songs like "We'll Always Have Today,"
a slightly less happy song that seems content to be simply influenced
by Minus the Bear. Digging deeper, there are individual moments on the album which, upon second or third listen, you realize are quietly awesome, like the ornate guitar lick stuck in the very back of the mix about a minute into "I Was Wrong,"
or the very simple choral keyboard sequences that dance in the background of "Bittersweet,"
subtly adding depth to the song. And then, there are those moments of grandeur that just wrangle your ears, like the two-minute-long solo that comes in the middle of "Sober"
(the last and longest track on the EP), which probably wouldn't be so out of place on a John Frusciante album, such is the wonderfully dense soundscape created by its false simplicity...or that outro on "Of One Language, Of One Speech...,"
in which Caleb sets his frets on fire for a bit of showing off. These elements help enhance the product as a whole, which is cool, because as I said, the vocals aren't meant to carry the entire thing.
That, however, presents this EP's biggest flaw. The album's true strength comes from its atmosphere (I could imagine listening to this on a dark desert highway in California), from its experimentation (there's no question that this album spans multiple genres and has multiple influences) and from its subtlety in arrangement (if I were Caleb, I'd be showing off my guitar chops at every chance I get, just sayin'...). The album's biggest weakness, though, comes from...the vocals. See, if the sexy star of the show gets too heady, then no matter how good the other players, and no matter how good the direction, the show will suffer a bit...and it does here. Caleb's voice absolutely matches the music well; he's got the perfect sound, and even better, he can use it to match the style of the song. He's also got a commendable mastery of all the other instruments presented here, as well as an ear for the different ways they can all fit together. The best songs on the album, then, are the ones that create a perfect cohesion between all the different pieces. Wait...let me rephrase that. The songs that work best
are the ones that create the perfect cohesion. "Sober"
manages to pull this off perfectly, and is consequently the best song on the EP; the vocals and the instruments are balanced in the mix just about right, and Caleb gets a chance to showcase his talents not only in the guitar solo, but also in production, as the last minute or so presents some very interesting musical experimentation (to be honest, despite being the longest song, it's perhaps the easiest to listen to--the mark of a good seven-minute-long song is that it feels like only three minutes have passed). "A Happy Song"
and "Wedding Song,"
meanwhile, work because the vocals are supposed
to take a commanding lead...and they do. The latter song even features two guest vocalists, Jacob Kemp and Dina Diaz, who create an excellent male-female folk dynamic a-la Nickel Creek. Those are the songs that work best. The songs I think should be the best
songs, though, are "I Was Wrong"
and "We'll Always Have Today"
...and yet those vocals are slightly TOO attention-grabbing, and that lounge-jazz instrumental trio is a bit TOO subtle for these types of songs, and it gives them a sort-of hollow feeling in the middle ("We'll Always Have Today,"
especially). Yes, I want that sex symbol front and center, but I also want to be able to enjoy all the other performances, "because as I said, the vocals aren't meant to carry the entire thing," and everything else is so well done that it would be a shame to not give them their due attention.
But of course, we'll let it slide this time. After all, 'Science Fiction'
is Caleb's first official product in music, and for all of its (minor) flaws and shortcomings and blemishes, it's definitely much
better than one might expect for a musician who recorded all instruments and almost all vocals to all seven songs "in [his] spare time during the past couple of months," and there are some really fantastic parts here. Above all, though, there's definite potential for growth, and an inkling that, if that potential is nourished, something truly amazing will emerge in the not-too-distant future. So yeah...we'll let it slide. Because this album, on the whole, altogether, is damn good. And almost all the songs on here are damn amazing. And Caleb has a damn fine ear for music.
And really, Caleb McAlpine's voice is damn sexy....but not in-your-face sexy. It's kind of like Jeff Buckley's voice, but with more timidity and less swag; you know, not Jessica Alba sexy, but Jenna Fischer sexy. Yeah...that somehow works.
Personal Rating - 4
Public Rating - 3.5
-"I Was Wrong"