Review Summary: Tanner Merrit's debut solo album is a lot of what makes O'Brother good but stripped down and restrained.
In his début solo album Tanner Merritt
does little to distance himself from his band O'Brother. This however is not completely a bad thing as O'Brother have yet to release any lacklustre material themselves.
The first thing that stands out in Doubt is the instrumentation as it is a simple yet fuzzy mix of synth, piano, acoustic and electric guitar very much at the forefront of the mix on many of the tracks. In fact the title track is a prime example of this; an atmospheric brooding session of heavy piano and stormy reverb. Tanner warbles out his lines underneath the rumble adding to the cacophony but not ever really breaching it until the music fades off. This opener very much recalls the sinister burn of Garden Window's Malum.
The next track, Wretched Things is a lot more straight forward in delivery the vocals though never high in the mix are a lot more pronounced. A welcoming aspect of much of the earlier songs on Doubt is a much more positive sound bleeding through the relatively earthy atmospheric rock. Though one could never say that the record is sunshine and lollipops it does seem, especially the first half, to have a positive feel. The cleanly picked guitar in The Harvest is one aspect of the sound that brings a more joyous attitude and coupled with Tanner singing "And we'll sing 'glory' " over it at the end it almost seems like he has written a worship song.
The major themes of the album are clearly focused on Tanner's views of God, life and death but never move into any preachy territory. He keeps the ideas relatively universal and engaging through his brilliant poetical phrases. A great example of religious influence being presented poetically is the line "And we'll greet the loss of innocence/ As Judas with betrayal's kiss". It is definitely recommended one read the lyrics while listening to this (which are available on the album's bandcamp page) as coupled with Tanner's very thick way of singing the words and the low mixing of the vocals themselves it can be quite hard to distinguish what he is actually saying which would be a shame to miss.
This is not a detractor from the album though as Tanner sings in such a way that he could be saying anything and it would affect you emotionally that's just how great a vocalist he is. A kind of mix between Dustin Kensrue’s emotion and Casey Crescenzco's range his voice is a perfect compliment to the earthy instrumentation.
Aside from a minuscule positive vibe bleeding through early on the major feeling one gets coming out of this album is a sense of human vulnerability which sinks itself quite deep. The apex of this, is the simple Three Times Divine which is made up of some acoustic guitar picking accompanied by one of, if not the strongest vocal melody on the album.
Doubt continues to its end in much the same way and though on first listen a lot of the tracks seem to blend together, when returning to the songs they definitely gain more individuality. Though the initial blending is a issue with most of Tanner’s work it definitely does aid in the natural flow of the record.
In conclusion, though Tanner shows more restraint in his performance on the album there is definitely no escaping how similar Doubt is to O’Brother. But the one thing separating this album from OB’s is that this time we get much closer to the front man and though the music isn’t as hard hitting it is just as emotive.
Tanner has said he released this album to raise money for his next solo attempt to be put out late this year and I for one cannot wait to hear what else he has in store.