Monday, August 20, 2012

Album Review: Micol Cazzell - Broken Things

Album Rating: B-
The poetic image of ‘one man and his guitar’ is something that’s been bastardised of late. What in yesteryear implied a man of experience - one who gives his deep, internal thoughts life with the aid of music - has since spawned a generation of boys who can all play three chords of ‘Wonderwall.’ This once noble art now involves a little too much coo’ing than is comfortable; too many cut-and-paste love songs; too many desperate young men who obviously really, really want to get laid.

Micol Cazzell stands on uncertain ground, then, especially because his disposition towards his music is set far from stone. On one hand his voice is quite understated and sweet, suspiciously so; indeed, this court would find him guilty were the the lyrics not running contradictory to this image. It’s storytelling, though thankfully not quite in the ‘boy meets girl/ girl finds true love/ boy has plenty of sex’ vein that the honourable judge would find fault in. Cazzell likes to sing about people and their stories: the motivations, actions and decisions that shape them. His voice is slightly too melodic to suit any continuous narrative, but lyrics begin to piece themselves together after a couple of spins. This isn’t too much of a chore, either, as the soft, soporific qualities of his vocals make for very easy listening: substituting much in the way of uniqueness or style with plain-old comfort.

The instrumentation has been dismantled somewhat since his previous summons in 2010 for Spinner’s Yarn. The noticeable lack of twinkling piano is a decision that arrives more than welcome. Likewise, the much more rustic approach to both Cazzell’s playing and the arrangements in general is a decision that might just save him from any conviction. The slow thumping beat of a drum that marches below ‘Broken Things’ gives both character and force to the song and, along with harmonica on top, produces a very dream-like and pleasant piece. The piano that introduces ‘The Unraveling’ threatens to - believe it or not - unravel this, however, as it’s just a little bit too pretty for any innocent songwriter, though it’s quickly saved as the piano fades out behind the vocals and guitar later on. Still, it remains fairly limp. Cazzell’s playing isn’t the most technical in the first place (compared to Owen-esc finger picking mastery; it’s good enough though), so refining it to prancing, soppy melodies only reduces the chance of hearing anything truly special. The jury is not amused.

So, it’s therefore contentious whether it’s truly worth listening to Broken Things; or whether it should be cast out by the court and forgotten in a ‘death by exile’ fashion. On one hand, Cazzell is adhering to many of the trappings of the sweetheart singer-songwriter types: directly working against Dan Le Sac’s 14th commandment: “Thou shalt not use poetry, art or music to get into girls’ pants” in the most obviously blasphemous way. At the same time, the music’s still good and he’s certainly shown himself to be a slight cut above the rest. There are plenty of elements of maturity in his work: with a kind of wistful melancholy behind it all and some well-crafted lyrics, but it still remains a little weaker than hoped overall. Broken Things does have harmonica solos, however. The honourable judge fucking loves harmonica solos. Not guilty. You’re free to leave.

Purchase Broken Things or freely download Spinner's Yarn on Bandcamp
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1. Rut
2. Broken Things
3. The Unraveling
4. 1961
5. The Waiting Song

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