Hand Built By Robots
REVIEW BY: Greg Calhoun
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/17/2010
Newton Faulkner’s guitar is treated like Ben Folds’ piano at a live show – every nook and cranny is slapped and pounded to get the desired sound. He isn’t the first to play guitar this way. The mainstream movie August Rush brought the niche sound of artists like Kaki King to a broader audience. Newton makes the sound his own, however, by using his strong voice to deliver folk-pop melodies that dance along with his infectious acoustic riffs.
Newton’s first album, Hand Made By Robots, starts strong with an instrumental lead-in to the track “To The Light.” The song defines Newton well. His lyrics do not feel superficial from trying too hard to be meaningful. He shows he is not afraid to be goofy with the line “Feel like a muppet with a drunken puppeteer, but I’ll survive.” Yet, goofiness aside, it manages to be a feel-good track with a driving verse and a chorus suited for singing along.
Newton follows with the more serious “I Need Something.” Its sparse intro leads into a powerful ballad crowned by a chorus that delivers. It is one of the strongest songs on the album, and the template for the next three tracks. Of these, the standout track is radio single “Dream Catch Me.” Although his guitar is more conventional, Newton’s emotions are most clearly displayed on this offering. His plea to be caught before he falls is relatable and the listener can’t help singing in agreement.
The second half of the album is weaker, with filler including a sitar track and an enjoyable bit of bluegrass called “She’s Got The Time” that disappoints by being too short to be considered a full song. It does contain some bright spots, from the silliness of “UFO” and “Gone In The Morning” to the serious ballads of “Straight Towards the Sun,” “Uncomfortably Slow” and “Ageing Superhero.” Also, it starts off with a stripped-down cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.” The song relies less on Newton’s creative instrumentals and shows his voice to be a worthy tool for the musician.
Overall, Hand Built by Robots is a bit uneven, but Newton’s creative songwriting and unique style give it a boost. There is a lot to love here and plenty of potential for the future, as he demonstrates proficiency on a wide range of songs from spare ballads to up tempo folk-pop. Unlike the mysterious UFOs he sings about, Newton Faulkner definitely lands with Hand Built By Robots, and with his talent, he is here to stay.