There are few greater compliments for a musician than the praise of an esteemed fellow musician. The word of a critic like myself may be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to certain performers, but having the approval of an artist like Sufjan Stevens or Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard is something more elusive, and therefore quite flattering. Brooklyn based singer/songwriter earned the praise of both artists after releasing his debut album Hold A Match For a Gasoline World, the former commenting that “Luke Temple has one of the most beautiful voices in pop music,” while the latter says “his voice alone is so damn good—one of the prettiest voices in indie rock, hands down.” Keep in mind that they both made a point of highlighting his vocal skills, which are something of an anomaly in a genre known for warbling, bleating and mumbling. His voice is awfully good though.
On Snowbeast, Temple’s second full-length, his gorgeous pipes propel him through 12 wonderful songs, subdued and subtle, but absolutely wonderful. His vocals are soft but expressive, brilliantly high-pitched yet displaying an astounding range that even Sufjan Stevens himself rarely achieves. Of course, it’s not just the singing that makes Snowbeast such a joy, but rather Temple’s songwriting skills as well. My brother described his music last year as “it’s as if Sufjan Stevens channeled Jeff Buckley to cover Who songs,” but listening to this record, I feel his songs are more like Sufjan Stevens channeling Van Dyke Parks to cover Tom Waits songs. I don’t know if that really makes any more sense, but it should give you some indication as to the wide range of sounds and textures on display here.
From the first few seconds alone, album opener “Saturday People” is a stunner. With sprightly electric piano, quirky plucks of piano and Temple’s own angelic voice, it’s a perfectly crafted bit of pop wonder, one that sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the album to follow. Thankfully, many of its songs come pretty close to the brilliance of that early peak. “The Owl Song” begins with a bit of melodica before delving into the Tom Waits influence that I alluded to earlier on. It’s an odd little song, but a fun listen with its bouncy percussion and squonks of organ. This is followed by a brief instrumental, but breaks into a beautiful ballad with “People Do,” a soulful, gospel-inspired number that sounds amazing, yet completely different than the songs that precede it. With more banjo and an ambitious building arrangement, “Time Rolls a Hill” is the album’s epic centerpiece, large in scope yet still reined in and subtle as only a home-recorded album could be.
Ben Gibbard and Sufjan Stevens are respected as songwriters and performers, but with their recommendation of Luke Temple, I can honestly say they can be equally trusted as tastemakers. Snowbeast is an incredible album, one that reveals many of Temple’s strengths, be they unconventional instrumental arrangements, impeccable songcraft or that amazing voice of his.
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.