“Down For the Count,” the first track of Daniel Ahearn’s Pray For Me By Name, starts off with an immediate surprise – burbling, weirdly funky synthesizers, backed with a keyboard lifted straight from the ’60s. This might throw off somebody expecting typical singer-songwriter fare (worry not, friends – every track also features string arrangements, so you’ll still feel at home), but not somebody who knows Ahearn from his previous group, electronica-folk indie group Ill Lit. Thankfully, the synths are used sparingly, and Ahearn’s weirdly lilting voice gets all the attention. When the chorus hits – “you’re not as far/as you think you are/from the place you used to go” – it becomes clear that this is the EP’s highlight.
Strangely, the synths disappear for the rest of the EP, and there’s a reason for this. Ahearn’s equipment was stolen a year ago, and he chose to write songs that could be performed solo if the need arose. Leaving aside the fact that it’s awful when any musician has his gear stolen, it is something of a fair point that something feels missing, and the songs suffer slightly for it.
This is not to say that the songwriting is weak, or the songs simply one-man-and-his-guitar (“Nowadays” features violins and swooping harmonies, while “San Vicente” is buoyed by a beautiful duet with Angela Correa, steel guitars, and a brooding cello). It’s more that the EP tends to feature one mood – “plaintive” – and the lack of extra production keeps the songs from rising past that mood. Of course, the EP is only 20 minutes long, so Ahearn can be forgiven for not barraging us with Sandinista!-like experimentation.
The EP, then, features what you might expect from a singer-songwriter without the defining characteristic of his old band – gentle melodies carried by his voice (there’s some John Mayer thrown in there, especially noticeable at the end of every line, but that shouldn’t be a problem unless you really hate Mayer) and quiet arrangements (“Jesus Saves” is all acoustic picking, bass, and a keyboard plinked sparingly). The final track, “Whitewashing,” uses lyrical juxtapositions (“I keep believing in these new old-fashioned ways/ I’m pretty sure I’m not certain of anything“), along with an almost waltz-like thump and David J. Jerkovich’s gentle backup vocals, to paint a tale of regret and loss (“I almost married your sister/ so we could be closer“). It’s a low-key way to close things out, and fitting for a low-key EP.
If nothing else, Pray For Me By Name will assure fans of Ill Lit that he won’t be straying too far from the track beaten by his former band. For those who don’t know him as well, it’s a small sample of what you’ve missed. Here’s hoping Ahearn gets his gear back in time for the next album.
Ill Lit – I Need You
Patrick Park – Everyone’s In Everyone
Hayden – The Closer I Get