Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
He has been an indie punk rocker in Archers of Loaf, an edgy, occasionally crooning indie singer-songwriter as Crooked Fingers and an indie folkie on 2006’s debut solo (non-instrumental) release. So it’s not surprising that North Carolina’s Eric Bachmann has once again donned a new guise, now as an indie melodic roots popper on this sophomore disc under his own name.
It’s enough to drive most fans crazy. But Bachmann’s innate originality, gritty, honest vocals and strong songcrafting have kept him alive as a creatively, if not necessarily commercially, vibrant force leading to this, his most easily accessible disc, arguably ever. From the first sweet piano chords and pedal steel guitar lines of the opening ballad “Belong to You” to “Mercy”’s Phil Spector “Be My Baby” beats and “Separation Frights”’ Hall & Oates styled hooky soulful rocking, this is a Bachmann we haven’t heard before.
It’s also his most outwardly upbeat album, even if the easy — or easier – flowing tunes sometimes mask darker lyrics such as “There’s chaos in the violence/ and maybe all of this is all you get” or “Oh no, I got a bad feeling/ Agoraphobia and anxiety has got my mad heart reeling.” Bachmann is never at a loss for words and if there is any downside of his always literate, often obtuse lyrics, it’s that there are too many of them.
But that makes this music, informed more by Elton John and Ben Folds than the more somber, brooding likes of Leonard Cohen, go down smooth and encourages you to hum along to songs that are downright tuneful. One of those is Liz Durrett’s “Carolina,” the disc’s only cover and one of the catchiest — some might say sunshiny — choruses Bachmann has ever dug into. The singer-songwriter’s always committed voice also pushes everything into more ominous territory despite the music’s lighter tone.
Whether established Bachmann followers will follow him on this smoother musical road is hard to say. But these are some of the most musical and enjoyable tunes of his more than 20-year career; one that has found him shifting styles without abandoning a dedication to compelling words matched by intriguing songs that never take his audience for granted.