Give him this much, Luke Temple knows how to kick-start an album with a bang. Having released two full-length solo releases under his own name, as well as two at the helm of eclectic chamber pop collective Here We Go Magic, his albums are notable for starting off with a rush of strikingly original ideas that slowly dissolve into considerably less inspired fare. It’s no surprise, then, that the opening track to Don’t Act Like You Don’t Care continues this tradition with “In the Open,” a delirious blast of hypnotic campfire guitar strums and swirling countermelodies that suggests that Temple might be on the verge of a monumental amalgam of Donovan and Animal Collective. Just as before, what comes later is somewhat less compelling.
If Temple sounds a bit distracted here, it’s probably because he was. Recording both this album and the first Here We Go Magic release at the same time, Temple eventually shelved this solo release to focus on his band exclusively (and they would make a second full-length release before he’d return to this album). Not surprisingly, the results here suffer from a conspicuous lack of focus, drifting through dreamy 50s pop balladry (“More Than Muscle”), plaintive Gordon Lightfoot sing-alongs (“How Could I Lie”), and sighing psychedelia (“Weekend Warrior”) before shifting into a series of surprisingly earnest attempts at adopting country-folk conventions. Having built up momentum for what appeared to be an off-center exercise in acid-tinged singer-songwriterisms, it’s a curiously abrupt shift that doesn’t entirely add up.
As the working title for this batch of songs was once The Country Record, it appears that Temple acknowledges that he was experimenting with a genre that might still be a bit of a novelty to the Massachusetts native. That said, he doesn’t sound totally out of place in these tracks, as the rich harmonies and good-natured accordion on “Ophelia” feel like a sincere, if somewhat self-conscious, homage to The Band, just as the somber “Luck Part” sounds like a countrypolitan demo waiting to be gussied up by Owen Bradley. Better still is the solemn “You Belong to Heaven,” a ballad that sounds designed for Patsy Cline’s voice, with Temple displaying an impressive range of emotion in his soft falsetto, and “Ballad for Dick George,” a cautionary tale of lost youth and aimless adulthood. But while these tracks hold up fairly well taken individually, when taken together as the conclusion of the album, they become a curious blur of somewhat similar-sounding textures and tempos that seem unconnected to the dizzying whirl of the album’s first half. This time, the problem is not so much that Temple has frontloaded the album with his best material but that he has made two different albums and pushed them together.
At this point in his development, Temple shows signs of being one of those frustrating artists whose main struggle is to channel his energies into something that adds up to more than a bunch of good ideas waiting for a focal point. What’s clear is that he’s a songwriter of considerable strengths –- his expressively dexterous voice, his idiosyncratic way of twisting his melodies, his experimental ethic – but Temple often seems unsure of what to do with them. No doubt, Temple is one of those rare songwriters who could probably make just about any kind of record he wants; he just has to figure out what that is.