Patrick Watson | Adventures in Your Own Backyard
album review by John Powell
Indie music suffers from the saunter of musicianship, layered instruments sometimes weird or off kilter- items like saws and penny whistles can find a home among rock n’ roll. It’s not often that an indie musician strives to mutate this new sound into old school professionalism. M. Ward pulled it off, and a few others. Like M. Ward, Patrick Watson has a knack for making the simple sweeter than a peach- juicier than one too, and Adventures in Your Own Backyard is nothing less than solid.
If it weren’t for Patrick’s high range alto voice, slurring and confounding words, you’d pick up on his inventive, picturesque lyrics, gaining insight into this carnival world where everything is beautiful, only cloudy and damp.
“Lighthouse” takes us there on soft piano- Patrick’s instrument of choice. . “Leave the light on,” Patrick begins. “Shine a little light to bring us back home.” Soft and slow, the song is slightly creepy, if it weren’t for nearly implacable musical tricks to raise the emotion into serenity.
Patrick does wonders with arrangements, enlisting female harmony vocals for much the album, exemplified on “Step Out For a While”, which is one of his more DeVotchka-esque songs. So, if you like DeVotchka then you will swim in Patrick’s half-country, worldly windmill of Americana. On “Step Out For a While” his voice reaches some of the highest note on the album, like Axl Rose went indie.
“Morning Sheets” is slightly out there. Guitar rattles calmly while Patrick sets the mood. On headphones, the panning in this song is delicious. The string arrangement is excellent, too, retaining that bittersweet sensation. The music continuously awaits a rock out, but it never really comes.
Some songs will set Patrick apart from his contemporaries. Or, rather, will make him well respected among them and set him on the road towards song-mastery. “Noisy Sunday” is beautiful enough to make you surrender your senses just to listen in. Sometimes, Patrick’s words get lost in his unique vocal style, but the overall feel is unmistakably him.
Yet the ultimate acheivment is “Into Ghosts”, almost as thunderous as Arcade Fire, especially with use of female backing vocals. Unlike much of Adventures in Your Own Backyard, “Into Ghosts” is a faster song, drum driven rather than guitar driven. The vocal harmonies are fantastic, especially at the culminating phrase: “Started as lovers/ don’t know where it’s going to end.”
Adventures in Your Own Backyard may not be the best album in the genre, but Patrick Watson will grow on you with every listen. You will become bewitched by his open-heartedness and learn that he has put the best music possible to his lyrics. What he’s missing are more hooks and overall catchiness, which he finds on “Into Ghosts”, which is why it rings out louder than the others.
If you haven’t checked out Patrick Watson, however, make Adventures in Your Own Backyard top priority. You will be happy to have this album in your cannon of indie neo folk.
Bottom line: Strange singing, odd instrumentation, and yet all of it beautiful and well-crafted into an indie neo folk record for the decade.