Review Summary: If the songs contained on this collection of Rathborne's two EP's is any indication, this young singer/songwriter is going to be someone to keep an eye on in the next few years.
22-year-old Luke Rathborne has quite an interesting story going for him already. He released an album in 2007, at the age of 19, which was quickly forgotten. However, it caught the attention of a few very important people in the indie-rock world. First is Devendra Banhart, who has thrown full support at Rathborne, going so far as to personally invite him to tour with him. He also has support from members of Antony & The Johnsons, who contribute to over half of the songs here. The last person is Ryan Gentles, known for managing The Strokes.
Listening to these eight songs, one can easily see why he has such a strong support system in place, with only one largely-ignored album to his name. The collection opens with "Tomorrow", which was on his debut LP, only featuring a cleaned up arrangement that suits the song well, giving it a more massive sound. In a fair world this song would be a massive radio hit. It has a very strong influence from The Verve (whom he lists on his webpage as an influence) with its instrumentation--featuring jangling guitar and strings--as well as a massive sing-along chorus. As for Rathborne's voice (at least in this song), it has a raspy quality making him sound older than his years. Lyrically, it's nothing groundbreaking--"Hang on my wayward baby, stay here by my side. It's not the end my baby, when everyone's gone by"--but there's a workman-like quality to the song (much like The Verve's music) that makes it more affecting.
Up next is "Dog Years", and right away you know you aren't in for an album full of "Tomorrows". One of the strengths of this collection is the variation of the songs contained within. Also impressive is the change in his vocals throughout. "Dog Years" starts sounding like an early Ryan Adams song, and when he sings the raspy quality is gone, only to kick in full-force for the chorus. The first EP closes with the songs "Pantomime Fear" and "Tie Your Hands". The former has him taking his voice to entirely different places in the verses, showing his vocal versatility, and features a horn-section mid song that carries it until the end. The latter is sparse, in instrumentation as well as run-time (less than 2 minutes). It's a country-flavored song with just a guitar and his vocals, which sound warm and inviting.
The second half starts with the EP's title track, "I Can Be One". The whole of the "I Can Be One EP" has the most influence from the members of Antony & The Johnsons. The title track is beautifully arranged, slathered in strings and a piano, with no guitar featured. This leads to "Motor City", which contains his best vocal work, a falsetto that couldn't be farther from the raspy-ness of the earlier tracks, and features more strings to carry the song.
The collection closes with "You Let Me In" and "Solon Town", and they make for an excellent close to the collection. The former resembles the instrumentation of "I Can Be One", only including guitar and drums. The closer brings back the country-influence, before ending with Rathborne straining his voice while repeating "Halleluiah" over and over. It's been shown that he has the range to hit the notes, so one has to believe it was a conscious decision to sing it with his voice cracking, sounding close to breaking. It's not a trick that always works, but in this instance it does. And with the closing on the album, the listener is only left with anticipation for what may come next. At 22 years old, Rathborne has potential for a lot of big things. If he can continue to put out music of the quality for the rest of his career, it would be impressive. And if he manages to mature and grow, then he has a really exciting career ahead of him.