Sunday, 3 February 2013

Music review: Patrick Green's "Melodrama"

Road trips can get pretty tedious after a while, but one of their saving graces is that they give you an opportunity to listen to hours and hours of your favorite music. During my recent trip to Kenya (more on which later), I made it my mission to explore all the dark corners of my iPod. I mixed together new downloads (Emeli Sande's "Our Version of Events") and old favorites (Paul Simon's "Graceland"), country/western (the soundtrack to Django Unchained) and classical (Beethoven's ever-popular "Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor").

I also finally had the chance to sit and listen to an album that was sent to me by the artist himself--something that doesn't happen to me too often (or, indeed, ever). This is the sort of odd thing that happens when you start up a blog, and most of the time you are approached by people that you have no interest in helping, collaborating with, or even responding to. Once in a while, though, you can't resist the opportunity to accept a free copy of something--a book, an album, whatever--that you are asked to peruse and review. If it's bad, after all, you can write a negative review (or none at all), but if it's good, you have the opportunity to turn other people on to something that they might enjoy.

Happily for all involved, the album in question--Patrick Green's Melodrama--falls into the latter category. One of the reasons I agreed to review Melodrama is that Patrick is a local artist, in the sense that he was born and raised in Manchester and still lives in the northwestern portion of the UK; I have to admire someone who opts not to head to London or NYC and strike up a relationship with the same producers and recording companies that are responsible for making all the famous pop stars sound alike. Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that Green describes his music as "alternative."

Actually, this categorization made me a bit wary at first. My musical tastes are definitely eclectic, but alternative is one of the most underrepresented genres in my collection (alongside metal). When you think about it, though, "alternative" is pretty vague, and mostly just indicates that this music might not be played by mainstream radio DJs. This latter definition applies to the bulk of my favorite music, which gave Green's album a fighting chance.

There is such huge variation across the entire album that it is hard to succinctly describe Green's music. Some songs are percussive and discordant, while others are melancholy and dark. There is a Bon Iver-like "homemade" sound to many of the tracks, giving you the sense that you're sitting in the recording studio listening live as the record is cut. Quite a bit of the album is atmospheric, in the sense that you can easily imagine that the music might be included on a movie soundtrack in order to set the scene (this is high praise from me considering my penchant for soundtrack buying). As I listened to Melodrama, I kept having the same thought again and again: This is the sound of an artist who has not yet been discovered, and then modified, by a major recording label. There were some imperfections (or, at least, I would describe them as such), but they made the album feel more genuine and heartfelt. It was the musical version of the difference between an original photo and one that has been Photoshopped.

The tracks that I enjoyed most were those that drew heavily from the soul, blues, and even folk traditions. My favorite was "Halo," which needs to be used in the advertising campaign for the upcoming movie version of Joe Hill's book Horns. It is a dark, Gothic sort of song with an alluring, passionate Spanish guitar solo; it is reminiscent of the music that has been used in UK commercials for TV show The Walking Dead. (Apologies for relating everything to publicity campaigns--I love ad music, and I wish I could be a professional ad-music-finder.)

Another favorite was "Notte," which is another dark tune with lots of reverb. I have a serious weakness for reverb because it instantly adds a haunted, moody feeling to music--and there is nothing I like more in music than a bit of mood. I'm not sure if the song is explicitly about a vampire, but Green's descriptions of a "creature of the night" are certainly evocative of a sexily dangerous (or dangerously sexy?) lady interest. Of course, a good track is more than just melody+lyrics, and Green includes other details in "Notte" to add polish and depth: One of my favorite parts of the song is the subtle "ooo" that he wails between refrains.

There were many songs in which the I found the lyrics interesting, but nothing that I could immediately connect with. "Playtime," however, told a story that I both understood and related to; I also enjoyed the upbeat nature of the song. In "Rd Violence," the words were well matched with the melody and style of play.  On the other hand, I quite enjoyed "Native Note" for the instrumental portions of the song, rather than those where the guitar was accompanied by vocals.

As I suggested above, there were a handful of songs that didn't really appeal to me--not because they were bad, but simply because they weren't to my taste. These were, however, greatly outnumbered by the songs that I liked. The only truly negative thing I have to say about the album was that there are places of "almost harmony," caused by vocals that were slightly sharp or flat. This may have been a deliberate artistic choice, but is not really to my tastes; I am, after all, an Appalachian girl, and tight melodies practically run in my veins.

On the whole, though, I enjoyed reviewing Melodrama and having the opportunity to listen to a different sort of music than would normally grace my iPod. After iTunes mysteriously decided to go rogue and remove all tracks from my iPhone last week (!), Green's album made the cut when I re-loaded my music. In fact, some of his songs even made it to my new "Singles and Favorites" playlist. Considering the price of a single iTunes download, and the fact that Green's entire 16-track album can be downloaded for a mere ₤4, there's really no reason not to give Melodrama a try. It's got so much variety that you're practically guaranteed to like at least 4 songs, which means you'll have gotten your money's worth. If you like what you hear, you can visit Green's website and check out the other six albums that are available for download.