When discussing what goes into great songwriting, it’s all too easy to focus on the tangibles: melody, structure, instrumentation, lyrics and so on. Often overlooked but no less important are the things that you don’t think about and can’t be taught: taste, touch, timing, transitions—these elements are not usually noticed or discussed unless they’re distracting. The goal is that the listener should not notice these things, but rather experience them. However, these factors are precisely why Casino Drone, the latest release from Bloomington, Indiana’s Mike Adams at His Honest Weight, succeeds and excels.
The guitar chords and swirls that start the album in “Bronze World” are out of Kevin Shields’ playbook, but soon a melody that is both simple and clear injects some pop-ness that transcends shoegaze. The melody and chords barely change in the chorus, but the harmonies and layers behind it do, creating a seamless and complete song. The rhythm of the next track, “Hobart, Chuck Manson and Jim,” is simultaneously chill and funky, and the guitars are chunkier, straying from the mood set in the prior tune. “The Lucky One” is playful and catchy as Adams’ classic-rock influences begin to seep through. Vocally, he channels Brian Wilson so well that you start to associate the intangibles with the classic experimenter.
On the very next track, “Stainless Still,” Adams manages to emulate another name linked to musical tinkering and mellow meanderings: David Gilmour. The similarity is eerie enough to do a double-take, but still distinct. The guitar chords and sound are reminiscent of Gilmour’s early solo work, and as Casino Drone continues to surprise, Adams’ own voice and intentions begin to come into focus.
While the influences are clear, so are Adams’ personal touches. “Diem Be” reflects Brian Wilson in vocal tone and the circular melody, but it manages a metal-influenced sound that the Beach Boy never would have attempted. “On the Fumes” has echoes of David Gilmour in the chorus, but he wouldn’t have struck some of the dissonant chords that Adams dares.
Adams’ lyrics are not to be ignored either, full of wit and intelligence. My personal favorite line from “Smart Marks”: “But for you now, you be my Rivers / I’ll be your Matt Sharp.” Not a sentence or syllable is wasted. According to Adams, he didn’t have a personal tragedy to reflect upon while writing these songs, but that appears to have allowed him the freedom to write lucidly about everyday things. It’s easy to get lost in the sounds and ignore the lyrics, and if you do you won’t be missing anything deep; you’ll just be missing a single element of what makes the songs complete.
Casino Drone is one of those rare accomplishments that can be enjoyed on the first listen and appreciated more on each repeat as new flourishes or bells or whistles are discovered. They are delicately and deliberately placed, and if they weren’t you’d notice it. Adams’ senses are in tune with his intentions: taste is discriminating; touch is deft; timing is calculated; and transitions are handled with the care of an expert storyteller, managing expectations to stay ahead of the listener.