Justin Levinson and The Valcours | This Side of me This Side of You
album review by John Powell
Justin Levinson left much of the country flare that bogged down Predetermined Fate and this time invited The Valcours as a backing band to turn his generally singer/songwriter vibes into rock/pop headiness that Ben Folds would applaud and the radio would turn up. This Side of me This Side of You is full of musical play, and although much of it is standard issue, it’s the good kind of standard. The songs sound familiar but not overdone, and sometimes they simply score. Other times, the songs are too familiar, and don’t bring much to the table, but overall, This Side of me This Side of You is a throwback to the era of fat bass under rock piano and one man lamenting his mistakes.
“Water Wears the Rock” is a great example of use of modern day fanciness. The album starter comes in with a synthy beat soft in the mix and Justin singing, “I press my nose against the glass/I peer inside/but there’s nothing.” The band is good. Guitar and piano play the same melody. The bass and drums have fun and keep things lively. Justin’s voice is in the upper range, hitting high notes with ease, and good but not too good. He sounds really real.
“Let You Go” exemplifies the ho-hum of some of the album that isn’t bad at all, just not "Wow." Piano is heavy. Strings swoop in. Guitar softly strums. “Constellations will fall to the ground/all that’s left will be arms and legs.” If Justin has a fault it’s not the ability to make a melody catch, nor to compose a tight and honest song. It’s that his lyrics are mixed metaphors that often seem written in order to hit the chorus.
This is not always the case. “Bar Scene” is super tight. “She had an On and Off switch screwed to my back/there was a chip in my skull.” Justin lets the sound get big. Horns break in the groove. The piano is slightly honky tonk. He’s got some wit and cheese, but totally self-aware. When he gets above the bullshit like this he really shines.
The highlight, however, is “You Became a Ghost”, rich with fuzzy guitar, thunderous strings filling in gaps, and synth driving the whole package together like a set of nails carefully hammered. The music is heavy and hearty. Anthemic, the song begs to be a hit. “In my darkest hour,” Justin shakes his head, “When I needed you the most/you became a ghost.” The song scorches and it’s because the band breaks from the classic formula and takes on a really indie approach to song construction. It suits them well, and this experimentation is peppered throughout the album.
“Say What You’re Gonna Say” brings the horns back. Again, the band relaxes fully; pulling out something ALO would love as far as simple music that in its own right is jarringly catchy. “Pride yourself on love/ditch this ugliness,” Justin sings his wisdom.
The album closes with “If You’re Happier”, a predictable brooding. “If I had you by my side/you were the one.” Oh, man, really? Justin, you can do better than that! When he’s snarky, pissed off, and calling people out, that’s when he finds his niche. The drama doesn’t strike as well as the self-realization.
This Side of me This Side of You doesn’t have any boring parts. The slower stuff is pretty and the fast stuff hits line drives down the center of this playing field. Sit up and take notice, as anyone who likes the mingling of indie credentials with pop materials will find Justin and the Valcours highly entertaining…and heartfelt.
Bottom line: Justin and the Valcours step into their zone and other than a few songs that don’t really break walls down, This Side of me This Side of You has something for everyone.