Somewhere Right Now

The Tell

Reclaim, 2021

http://thetell.bandcamp.com

REVIEW BY: Conrad Warre

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/08/2021

The Tell is made up by James McAlister and Noah Dickie. Dickie composes and sings for the indie band Coastwest Unrest and McAlister is a multi-instrumentalist/programmer who has toured as a drummer for The National. Their collaborative album Somewhere Right Now explores the mostly synthetic landscape of two-dimensional planes of sonic minor-key programmed gently moving rivers of sound.

The occasional drums impart a level of urgency to the background music but are actually overtaken by the bass guitar, which has the most testosterone in the orchestration. Because the vocal treatment is cautious and somewhat tentative, it results in a subdued mood that lends itself to staring at mosaic wallpaper under the calming influence of marijuana. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The album is clearly the result of a labor of love but sits somewhere between reflective and active without reaching out aggressively to either extreme. The temptation is to lean into the producer’s microphone after a vocal taken and offer: “Dickie, could you try a take with you screaming the chorus?” Track seven, “Thoughts And Everything,” does a nice job of setting up the instrumentation, the playground for the vocals to appear inside, but the vocal treatment fails to own the territory. The final track “Outgrown” kicks off with a piano figure already embedded in ghostly keys and soft-spoken vocals leading to sparse electric guitar mentions. “Don't cut the string, every little thing is adding up, and taking its toll you’re still playing a role – you’ve outgrown” is the message, albeit subliminal in its softness.

The tracks quickly blend into each other, which is a quality if the aim is to create a continuous belt of careful anticipation. “Clap Clap” opens the album with a deft tip of the hat to Steve Reich, with alternating bars of 3 and 5 and lends promise to the ingenuity of the rest of the album.

While the music is beautiful, the restrained vocal performances leads one to suspect that the album was recorded late at night after an enormous argument among exhausted musicians determined to get the job done.  After multiple listens, the individual album tracks start to emerge from the musical landscape as genuinely individual pieces, but as a continuous auditory experience, the album suffers from a lack of contrast.

Rating: C

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