There are a few certain genres of music that tend to sound good, no matter what. I’ve found few glitchy electronica albums that offended me. Taut, catchy power pop rarely disappoints me. And lush chamber pop is almost foolproof. But my overall positive outlook toward these genres creates an unfortunate double standard. While, on the one hand, it means I’m likely to enjoy any chamber pop album you hand me, it also means that that album will require that much more effort on the part of the performers to actually wow me. And I’m sure a few clicks through the Treble archives will reveal that most albums by multi-instrumental singer-songwriters have received favorable reviews, though tend not to achieve “album of the week” status. What a shame.
If you have the right elements — tight songwriting, a plethora of instruments at your disposal, a penchant for grandiose arrangements — you’re already in the ballpark. But it takes the right combination of all these ingredients to earn special recognition. Jason Anderson’s The Wreath, however, succeeds in cooking up a hearty stew of pretty songs in just the first four songs alone.
Like many of his Pacific Northwest contemporaries (Mirah, Colin Meloy, Ben Gibbard), Anderson seems to have an instinct for crafting near-perfect pop songs. The melodies, themselves, are simple and sweet, but executed masterfully and without the obtrusiveness of over-production. Instead, Anderson adds the right touches at just the right moments — the electric guitar solo in “O, Jac!”, the trumpet and vocal harmonies at the end of “Citizen’s Arrest,” the stark piano in “My Balancing Act.” Everything is in just the right place, clearly the result of careful planning.
Certainly, Anderson finds the delicate balance between too much and too little production, but occasionally errs on the side of the latter. Everything sounds just full and rich enough without spilling over into indulgent territory. And yet, at times it seems not crisp enough. More importantly, however, it feels warm and familiar. It doesn’t take long to feel good in the company of this record, partly due to the rich sound and partly due to Anderson’s warm but imperfect voice, singing charming but awkward gems like “I’m slowly embracing the concept of you as a ghost” and “we all long for closeness/what’s the difference between friends?”
Jason Anderson has something special. It’s not necessarily one talent over any others, but the equilibrium in which they all exist. It’s all too often that songwriting suffers because of bad production and vice-versa. Anderson is getting close to making the perfect pop album, but isn’t quite there yet, unfortunately. While the first half is absolutely brilliant, the second half meanders a little bit and, again, can be a little too lo-fi for how ambitious it is. Regardless, Anderson is on the right track, and though I may not have given him “album of the week” this time, he’s not too far off.
Bright Eyes – Fevers and Mirrors
Eric Matthews – It’s Heavy in Here
Matt Pond PA – Emblems
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.