Tom Watson is pretty modest. He’s not really one for having pictures taken of him, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want anyone to know his last name as he uses his faux-twosome moniker to lead people to believe he's a pair of people called 'Tom Keaver' and 'Tom Brause'. He’s basically shuffled in with the Boards of Canada
copycats and Bibio
mimics as garden-variety downtempo. Being signed on the Lone-influenced Dealmaker Records, you can expect his sound to be psychedelic and filled with sonic beats. His sound may not be as definitive as the above artists’, but in spite of this Watson creates an album that he can safely call his own.
The Middle Way
's distinction lies in Watson's use of beats and samples. Strings, pianos and electronic pieces hold the framework for the album, being a little bit more eclectic than its peers. Voices are sampled sparingly, but they’re used effectively to sprinkle a little bit of life across the soundscape . Using tools common to trip-hop artists, Keaver and Brause creates songs like “Summer t’Say”, whose beats bounce around to keep the gospel-esque vocal samples afloat with verve. Sandwiching the album is a unique intro and outro, the former buzzing in like fluttering wings trying to acquire a rhythm, and the latter ticking away with synthesizers like a flickering flame. Some less-than successful experimentation manifests in “Fision”, flopping all over the place with bizarre glitch noises without the atmosphere and magic of other tracks on the album.
Watson’s influences are anything but subtle on his debut. It’s pretty plain that he’s inspired by IDM juggernauts Boards of Canada, “Livfe” and “CSNR” treading nonchalantly along those hostile, nostalgic lines. A little bit less recognizable but equally noticeable are more upbeat, daydreamy notes taken from his underground contemporary Lone. Light-hearted but chilling pianos and flutes make up “Bounce” in its wistful nature, having an aura reminiscent of Lone’s Lemurian
-era sound. Similarly, “Cedar Green” flourishes with skipping piano melodies beneath the hazy, airy electronic winds while being broken up by subtle beats and cymbals. Several songs on The Middle Way
borrow from jazz, and it’s most effectively utilized on “Awake”, drifting delicately with equally soothing pianos and drum lines for one hell of a nature walk. Effectively though, The Middle Way
isn’t a direct clone of common IDM fare (though it may seem so at first) and uses Watson’s various inspirations uniquely.
Keaver and Brause’s debut record is strong and promising, though he doesn’t do too much to stick out among his underground pool of influences. It’s true that Watson has a sound of his own but as said above, he’s rather humble and doesn’t necessarily need a groundbreaking new style or innovation. For those looking for a sound reminiscent of Matt Cutler or Boards of Canada, Tom Watson’s The Middle Way
can most definitely feed your cravings; otherwise his sound may not be quite as accessible to the common listener.