Friday, September 12, 2014

REVIEW: Robert Scott - The Green House

Life has many uncertainties, but one thing I've learned to count on is the quality of Robert Scott's songwriting.  If this New Zealander pens a tune, I know I want to hear it and I know that I am very likely to enjoy it.  The songcraft for which he is most widely known is his work for his band, The Bats, which has a three decade history of excellent songs (review of the recent release of their early albums here).  But he also contributed to creating songs for The Clean, for which he is the bass player, and as a solo artist.  Amazingly, Scott's writing shows no sign of the well running dry.  The Bats' most recent outing, 2011's Free All The Monsters contained some of that group's best work (our review here).  And now we have his latest solo album, The Green House, consisting of 12 tracks on which Scott reveals his thoughts in a somewhat quieter, slower-paced fashion than his other projects.  The melodies are fine, and finely-tuned; more relaxed than on songs penned for The Bats, but thoroughly engaging and adorned with various textures and thoughtful flourishes.  And playing guitar, bass and keys for the recording, one has to assume that Scott got the sound he wanted.  As one would expect, the vocals feature Scott's tenor, almost delicate with a hint of smokiness.  But the artist was inspired to add the vocal contributions of gifted young Kiwi singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook, who records and performs as Tiny Ruins (and reviewing her album is on my long "to do" list).  Hollie's voice can be sweet and crystalline, or mature and knowing, and her contributions add the depth and contrast that Scott undoubtedly was anticipating when he invited her to the recording sessions.

The album begins with the superbly moody mid-tempo "Lights Are Low".  Taut and almost ominous, with winning vocal interplay between Robert and Hollie, it merges dream pop and folk rock to wonderful effect, and is the perfect beginning to the album.  The following "Lava" showcases Scott's restraint and use of space to highlight the melody and vocals.  The guitar pop muse prompts the delicious third song "Vertigo" (funny, I almost looked at the liner notes to see if Bob Mould guested on that one).  The quietly elegant "Lazy Boy" brings a bit of the English folk song to the proceedings, and is followed by "Favourite Case", an acoustic instrumental that sounds like the musical representation of a summer breeze.  The first half of the album is closed out with the simply affecting lover's plea, "Now In Your Hands".

The flip side is introduced with two of my favorite songs on the album.  The first is the soaring guitar pop of "Month of Sundays".  It is not easy to explain, but it is one of those songs that just sounds like redemption.  The second is "Little Bird", an  elegant and rich folk pop tune which may feature the best vocal duet on the album.  Next are the hushed "Hear the Hondas" and the upbeat dreaminess of the appropriately named "The Starry Show".  If the earlier instrumental "Favourite Case" sounded like summer, the almost instrumental "Where the Frost Lies" sounds like a crisp but sunny late fall morning.  The album closes with the lovely "Right From Wrong", which may be a textbook example of saving the most precious moment to the end.

The Green House is out now via Flying Nun Records.  It is available on vinyl and CD, and via digital download.

Flying Nun
Bandcamp for The Green House

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