So we’ve been chatting with Lucas Garrett back and forth on Facebook and we can say, without qualification, he’s a real cool guy. Mostly because not only did he reach out to us here at Times Boredom, but he did so to tell us how much he enjoys our shitty little anti-commercial blog. And furthermore, he likes it so much he wanted to be featured in an article!
To be clear, ANYONE that thinks our diamond in the shit publication is good or funny or even ironically enjoyable is fucking cool in our book. Someone that wants to be featured, well that’s just smart (but risky) marketing, given how much fame and fortune it unfailingly grants bands we write articles soon thereafter (even if we do sometimes cross the line and make too much fun of them). Problem on our end is, lazy stoners that we are, we never came up with an idea for an article; it might have helped to have seen Mr. Garrett and/or his band live, but you know, the pandemic’s kinda put a dampener on that. And everything else about live music.
Anyway, this cooler than fucking cool guy says ‘I forgive you lazy dickheads for not making a mockumentary style article that you just ripped off from hardtimes.net and changed the names to to sound like it’s about me, but seriously, can you at least just review my upcoming ep?’
Which makes him a cool, really brave musician; if you’re unfamiliar with our reviews, we put a HUGE FUCKING WARNING on our submission page. We are brutally honest. And often times this can be inappropriate, as we’re very hung up on the type, style, and commercial considerations of a group or artist. Perhaps even more so than whether they make good music or not. So, say, if someone makes excellent Elton John influenced music, we’re gonna hate it and not pull any punches. Not because we have anything musically or even personally against Elton John, but his songs are bitter to our ears, and then they make themselves comfortable and stick around anyway especially when you don’t want them to. Not to mention the non-diy non-independent nature of his commercial music, which to our stable of far leftist ‘tankies’ is offensive before we even hear a note. And we’re not fair or even-handed enough to leave our prejudices against certain artists and styles at the door when reviewing newer stuff, instead writing as though the influenced artist is somehow themselves guilty of the sins of their influencers…
Point is we’re dickheads. And when it comes to reviews, we play dirty and sometimes even nasty. And our pal Lucas, (I know we haven’t known you for that long, but before you read this review you’d say we’re pals, right buddy?), well aware of our shitty, unnecessarily mean reputation, asks us to review his pop/rock ep that, if his old stuff is any indication, is gonna lean on some commercial indie pop rock (let’s assume none of it’s corporate for the sake of our enjoyment) for at least a significant portion thereof (also knowing full well that we worship only unlistenable noise and brutal funeral doom). On the other hand as we’ve heard and see with the cover artwork, his work may becounterbalanced by a healthy dose of cow punk, maybe some Minutemen style post-hardcore funk punk? Still, we’re afraid we’re gonna say something mean (given our style of radical truth telling) and then we won’t be buddies no more. But we did promise we’d review anything we got. Even if it does hurt our friends’ feelings and our chance of being buddies in the future. So, here we go, and god help us all…
(Please keep in mind that the above pre-ramble is meant to not only cover our asses in the likely event someone gets rightfully pissed and throws the grenade back at us, but also to stop any of our ‘fairweather fans’ out there just looking for a short, cute, funny article to continue reading this one. Are you still reading? Ok. You’ve been adequately warned and then some.)
We usually start our mean reviews by at least noting that the artist and their crew are talented individuals. And in the case of Lucas Garrett (who does the lions’ share of leading on lead vocals and guitar, synths, MIDI programming, etc), bass player Kevin Kossach, and Emmet Rozelle on drums, there’s no doubt whatsoever that this is the case (past bands that backed up Mr. Garrett are a veritable who’s who of talented up and coming Glens Falls musicians). And though much of the percussive and bass work is entirely excellent (as can be heard when either or both are briefly highlighted at times over other instruments as all too short instrumental interludes give way back to melody or during one of many percussive fills that don’t miss a beat) the talent here is clearly meant and does a near perfect job of highlighting the songwriting and performing talents of Lucas Garrett. To make a long review short(er), the band’s tight as a drum. So in sync and overtly professional we wonder why all of these talented musicians (including Garrett himself of course) aren’t making mad bank doing studio work for labels with lots of money (hopefully they are when they’re not doing this). But here, they’re doing an excellent enough job to make you almost forget (unlike most of the other more amateur records we review) that you’re listening to an unsigned non major label release that’s clean cut in all the right places.
In addition to the sound being nothing short of disturbingly professional and unobtrusive, the overall effect is almost entirely unique. You can perhaps guess at influences here and there, but they’re almost impossible to pinpoint. No one’s trying to sound like this band or show off how well they know the depth of some obscure Beach Boys record, but rather, the effortlesness comes straight from what sounds like a long course of study and craft honing over the course of entire careers. So I’m not going to go into the influences or what they’re trying to sound like because, honestly, I don’t hear anyone else’s voice on this record. Other than perhaps a broadly generic though interesting sort of laid back roots rock with just the right amount of funk and latin rhythms to let you know they’re taking all influences equally to make the sound precisely what they want it to be.
By far the most unique part of the Lucas Garrett experience is his vocal stylings. And just like other great songwriters whose unique voices have been relentlessly criticized but appreciated by real fans (Dylan, Will Oldham, Neil Young, etc), Garrett’s is a style that’s entirely idiosyncratic and fits within the unique and original melange of sound. Just like say (and no I’m not heralding influences here I explained that earlier) Leon Redbone or Leo Kottke, the music, the instrumentals, and the songs are inseparable from the interesting and entirely unique vocals of the songwriter. Garrett sings in a clipped, meanderingly tranquil baritone that never reaches far beyond a short range or ‘reaches’ in any way, for high notes, melody, or any other unnecessary accoutrement that will take away from the highly individual style and nothing more, nothing less than exactly what the songs require. It comes off as entirely unpretentious, comfortingly familiar, and yet completely unaffected or gimmicky. It’s breathtakingly honest yet repressed in a way that’s at times calming and at times heartbreaking, like someone trapped by trying to focus on the positive and not get emotional when everything around them may be hurtful, enraging, or just plain losing its shit. Track one proclaims: “The wires are humming/My mind is burning/The world is burning/What the hell can we do?”.
Unlike the familiar, ecclectically professional and straightforward music, the lyrics for the songs are rather opaque and quixotic. I gotta admit I’ve looked over them many a time while listening to the ep, and I can’t say for certain I’ve figured out what any of the songs are meant to say or convey, whether they’re about a person, contain a narrative, etc. But much like, say, early R.E.M. (not citing influences just comparing to other great works!), the mysterious and subjective nature of the nearly impenetrable lyrical meaning leaves the listener completely in control of how they wish to interpret the songs and make them their own.
The mysterious complexity of this record can be contrasted with the lack of experimententation with song structures, instrumentation, and song lengths. Each intricate piece of each fully formed track sounds like something you’ve heard before, sometimes in a good way but too often defined entirely by droll wit. It’s as though what’s so great about this record is what it’s hiding, but in many respects it’s hiding it too well. The songs are at times even too academic. Studied and well thought out is good, but when it’s accompanied by what sounds like a fear to explore outside of structured modalities and expected changes in tempo, chord sequences, and fretwork, it often comes together as too safe. We’d like it very much if Lucas Garrett took his songs further, as he does infrequently and never for very long when it appears the band is almost jamming, the bass lines holding a steady but creeping change, the percussion going just a little wild… but always, unfortunately, staying within well defined parameters.
This ep, like most of Lucas Garrett’s work that came before it, is enjoyable and even at times remarkable primarily in two respects; first and most obviously, in the breadth and scope of its own self-awareness. Garrett and the players are obviously well studied, well rehearsed, and very experienced in both their craft, their approaches, and the lines that always seem to converge on a central, comforting and familiar theme of rhythmic independent pop/rock. Second, the uniqueness of the vocals and the ‘roads not taken’ in the songwriting bear witness to an unmistakeable atmosphere of repression. Like a latter day Karen Carpenter, the very self-assured and solid songs, songwriting, and never too far boundaries to which they’re pushed thinly veil an underlying sense that, even though he’s trying to convey (to us? to himself? to the world at large? someone he’s trying to impress?) a sense of remorseless dignity and a professional ability to handle EVERYTHING, it’s clear that there are stronger emotional and musical elements that are hiding underneath.
And this second great strength and intrigue is also what can be so heart breaking about Garrett’s work in general. It’s as though he’s so professional and concerned with writing a perfect yet interesting pop song according to a constrictive (yet entirely useful — great careers in music have been made on much less with much less ability) set of assumptions and givens, that he doesn’t realize that the castle’s made of sand. The songs and the instruments could be much more free. As they are, they’re charmingly well written, catchy, and somewhat unique… but as they could be, as evidenced by the periods on the ep at which the songs begin to lose their bearings, but then are just as quickly brought back into the fold of a fairly straight line with well worn yet enjoyable conventions, could be as expansive as Lucas Garrett would let himself be.
Overall, a really good ep in a series/career of good to quite impressively good songs, recordings, and performances. But much like so much contemporary music that gets stuck in a certain way of being to set itself into an enjoyable or marketable niche, if it were to drop some of the rocks, it could be great.
Well done friend. I hope we can still be buddies.