Submissions Report #2
Every so often, I’ll review submissions sent to me, usually albums but sometimes singles or EPs. So here we go!
Arthur Fowler – What’s Keeping Me Going
Possessing a voice like a cross between Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold and Jack Johnson, but harboring a far greater fondness for virtuosic jamming than either of them, Arthur Fowler is a better player than poet, and What’s Keeping Me Going, his 2014 record, tends to be at its best when it strays from typical lighthearted singer/songwriter confessional pop and favors a looser, musical structure. The washes of chimes, the atmospheric bongo patter and the ribbons of flamenco flourishes ensure that Fowler’s tunes never quite leave the coffeehouse, but that would be okay if these songs exuded a real warmth or rawness. Unfortunately, songs like “Please Try” and the breezy, faux-tropical “Love The Music” feel perfunctory, the kind of good-natured tunes that are easy to shrug off before turning back to your crossword and cappuccino.
What’s Keeping Me Going‘s core, though, is Fowler’s formidable guitar playing and arranging. Is it any wonder that two instrumentals, the bossa-nova feint of “Twilight Breeze,” a kind of sunny come-down interlude, and the sighing epic-tinged folk of “On The Verge,” are some of the best things on the record, when on other pop albums they would just be lovely diversions? To be fair, a few of the vocal tracks stand out. “For The Turnstiles” moves against its slow-burning country strings to lend itself an unexpected richness lacking elsewhere, while “The New York Song” succeeds where his other songs fail by utilizing an assuming, low-key charm. It doesn’t do anything special, but What’s Keeping Me Going is decently pleasant listening, an instance of someone who’s better at soundtracking a sunset walk with a loved one than expressing the sentiment himself.
Return For Refund – Return For Refund EP
Return For Refund’s debut eponymous EP has one big problem with it: familiarity. Their music is firmly in the rote post-grunge camp, maybe with a little more quirky abandon, playing like a cross between Queen Of The Stone Age and Foo Fighters, a style the radio may have adopted in the late ’90s and early 2000s but seems depleted now. On a pure sonic level, Return For Refund aren’t as slick as, say, 3 Doors Down, or whoever, but they also lack a sense for melody and hook, and even when the songs get by on musicianship (as they often do), there’s very little here that doesn’t completely dissipate in the mind as soon as it’s over. Frontman Drew Clementino’s southern drawl may add a little flair but the music here is prone to stolid beats and power chords and pseudo-evocative cliches like the “Hey!” chant that permeates the martial stomp of “Between My Sheets.” It’s not that any these songs are glaringly bad per se—if the opening roar of “The Fields” appeared on local rock radio one day, few would bat an eye—but there’s just very little to mention in them at all (except that there’s one song called “Yolo,” which, even if the song makes fun of the term, doesn’t make it any less silly and disposable.)
On the brighter side, the last song, “Those Bombs,” demonstrates at least a little dynamic range, allowing the song to breath just a bit, easing up on the flat, overpowering heaviness that eats up the rest of the songs and letting Clementino’s words to reveal themselves. Meanwhile, the winding riffs on “Some Is Better Than None” display some post-punk tension that they would do well to exploit in the future. After all, it’s better that they learn what works about their sound now while they’re young, so they don’t end up in another pile of listless grunge acts.