Review: Gentleman Caller, 'Wake' 

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Gentleman Caller
Mariel Recording Company

Gentleman Caller's album Wake is a record about self-realization experienced through physical and emotional displacement. The characters in Wake withdraw from the world, depart from their homes and search for the "answers" in God, school, drugs and a lover's embrace, finding solace in none. It's a dark, seemingly hopeless record whose voices wander from place to place -- but it's also a cathartic record; one which, somewhat paradoxically, reminds us that wandering can be as comforting as feeling grounded.

Immaculately produced, each track on the record is marked by the kind of purposeful, understated layering that rewards the listener after multiple plays. The back-up vocals are mixed for maximum impact and the various instrument overdubs create dense textures without ever sounding overproduced. Additionally, each player is perfectly in sync with the other and every song, both the contrived and the powerful, is masterfully executed.

At the center of the record is the voice of songwriter Kenny Childers, a Bloomington native whose vocal style occupies a space somewhere between Isaac Brock, Conor Oberst and Jeff Tweedy. He manages to sound disaffected, bored and visceral - simultaneously. His voice carries the entire record, making otherwise uninspired tracks engaging and driving the album's most brilliant moments.

The first half of the album is arguably the weakest. "Leave This World Alone" provides a powerful opener, but the record loses steam with the second track "Always Hearing Voices" which sounds like an imitation of any B-side from "Funeral"-era Arcade Fire.

The biggest problem with the first half - and, actually, almost the whole album - is that the mood never evolves consistently. "Always" and "Frank and April" feel like detours rather than purposeful new directions. "The Answer" sustains this trend of inconsistency, but it's an enjoyable singalong and provides the philosophical heart of the album.

"Sophia Loren" and "Canary" kick off the second half of Wake; they're also the album's best songs. The former sounds unlike anything on the record; the beat and bass line sputter as if in constant risk of unraveling. Each verse is followed by a soaring synth melody that intensifies throughout the track.

It provides a great prelude to "Canary," the album's finest moment. It's a haunting tune - imagine Joy Division playing the Bean Blossom festival. Ghostly backup vocals mumble against a creeping guitar hook as Childers murmurs lines like "I fell into the scenery" or "Southern Indiana/I still had you in my eyes/I let you run right through me." The listener can almost hear Childers disintegrate with each syllable. The rest of the album follows the momentum of "Canary" culminating in the closer "Youngest Kind of Pain," an irresistibly catchy, (sort of) uplifting song that finds Childers reveling in disillusionment.


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Sean Armie

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