Review Summary: You had me at Rain Dogs.
For his second studio album, With Spirit
, Indiana native son Andrew Hughes continues to make one thing clear: whatever his vision is, it's unique, and he intends to own it with all of his being. Of course, it's not made abjectly clear to the listener just what that vision might be, but that seems to be the point of Hughes's eccentric style of songwriting. A self-described disciple of Paul McCartney, his debut project from last year seemed like it was attempting to capture the unfinished electronic aesthetic of McCartney II
, whereas With Spirit
is similar to McCartney's Ram
in how the songs feel much more satisfying and complete this time around. The fragmentary songwriting and lo-fidelity production of the debut album is largely gone here, which only serves to this record's benefit all the more.
There is a level of introspection to With Spirit
that was much less apparent/existent in Hughes' previous songs. But while most artists tend to own their introspection and let it dominate their songwriting, Hughes coyly juxtaposes it with a dry sense of humor. This humor manifests itself less in the lyrics themselves and more in the production and editing decisions that he makes. "Knees/Things" is unquestionably the highlight of the record, a seven-minute-long acoustic number that doesn't overstay its welcome by maneuvering through multiple distinct sections with ease, all the while containing some of Hughes' most direct lyrics on the entire project. But for as lachrymose as the song might seem based off of this description, the track also intersperses this atmosphere with jump-cut edits, backwards loop effects, and even a clip of Hughes sneezing. It's almost as if he doesn't want the listener to feel sorry for him. As far as this reviewer is concerned, such a nonchalant treatment of what are clearly very genuine feelings packs more of an emotional punch than any white-bread, vanilla Justin Vernon knock-off ever could.
When I say that With Spirit
is eccentric, I mean it in the most loving way possible. Hughes' influences may not be the most well-hidden in the world (inspiration from McCartney, Deerhunter and Fleet Foxes shows itself quite clearly in certain songs), but he gets around that by taking the most abnormal aspects of each and combining them together to create something very unique. At his core, Hughes is exactly what he advertises himself as: a rather creative bedroom pop artist with relatively eclectic influences. But it is rare for someone to own that eclecticism as much as Hughes does, and more importantly, to create a finished product that is as thoroughly interesting
as what he's created here. In an extremely over-saturated independent music scene, to establish your identity in such a way puts you ahead of many competitors. Kudos to Andrew for exhibiting such ingenuity.