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|3.5 great||zillah | July 30th 11|
I've always considered Ben Ottewell to be Gomez's best vocalist and weakest songwriter. Thus it's surprising that his debut record Shapes and Shadows succeeds for me on the strength of the songs, without much help from a fairly underwhelming vocal performance. First single "Lightbulbs" is warm and trippy, exactly the aesthetic you'd expect of Ottewell and co-writer Sam Genders (formerly of Tunng) getting in a room together. "Step Right Back" is a stomping march with terrifically enigmatic, sexy lyrics and nice use of vocal reverb. Meanwhile the title track, second single "Blackbird" and "Chose" are exactly the sort of songs that solo albums are designed to accomodate, folkily intimate and lovely in a way that would likely not survive a collaborative environment. But while Ottewell might be able to write folk songs, they are unfortunately not an especially a good vehicle for his voice. Relentlessly controlled and set off against accoustic guitar, it never attains much power and often comes across as fey and tired rather than wise and gnarly. This problem is especially acute on the weaker tracks. Centerpiece "Chicago" is undone by boring crooning on the verses building up to a histronic bridge lyric analogizing a delayed flight home to being dragged through Lake Michigan. These sorts of stylistic faults don't diminish the careful and lyrical songwriting that charaterizes about 3/4 of the album. But if Gomez ever go their separate ways, Ben is going to need to learn to write more convincingly for his voice.
|0.0 ||SowingSeason EMERITUS | February 16th 11|
This is one of those streamlined indie albums, where it almost feels like the artist goes into the album with the attitude "I'm going to make this album indie with lots of acoustic guitars and folk influences so people will think it's good" mentality...a lot of the songs sound too samey, but overall this is still a pleasant listen with a handful of worthwhile tracks ("Blackbird" is actually quite amazing, for instance). Ben Ottewell's voice may take some getting used to, but it is still familiar and comforting and works well with the music he makes. Intriguing listen at the very least, but not a boat load of potential with this particular debut album.
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