Friday, February 15, 2008

i'll be lightning

what can you tell about a person's music from just looking at them? well, if they have long scraggly hair and wear faux tribal iconography, they're devendra banhart. if they wear eyeliner and wedding dresses and propose to marry crowds, they're definitely kevin barnes. if they have silly looking, ungroomed beards and noisy pedals, they're bj from parts & labor. and, of course, if they're a new zealander who looks like a leprechaun and plays all the instruments on his debut album and has a kickass live show and simultaneously evokes kurt cobain and jeff tweedy, it's gotta be liam finn.

i was first introduced to the sprightly down under-er during cmj, when he opened for the brunettes at an all-new zealand party, and i was instantly hooked on his hooks. dressed in flannel and ripped jeans, with tousled hair and a full beard, finn looked every inch a garage rocker, a snap judgment confirmed by his free-spirited, rambunctious set. nearly a one man band (finn employs eliza-jane barnes on vocal harmonies & hand percussion), he darted between bass, guitar, and drums to set his loops, and rocked out gratifyingly, if a little unexpectedly. i'm on record as a fan of one man bands, but finn is not your average loopmaster. he is a frenzied punk rocker who doesn't have time for a band, or maybe he just prefers to play everything himself. the point is, don't expect some long drawn-out climactic shit. his songs are tidy little bundles of energy, and if i hadn't seen him perform, i would never have guessed that he does it all himself (including his own vocal harmonies). finn bends the concept of a one man band, eschewing electronicy gadgets for traditional instrumentation and songwriting, and i'll be lightning, finn's debut solo album is an pleasant mix of folk and garage rock.

pleasant, yes, but not always enrapturing. i'll be lightning clocks in at 53 minutes, and the length is a burden, the album's second indistinguishably blurred. it is enjoyably front-heavy, from jangly opener "better to be" and new single "gather to the chapel," languid and serene, to "lead balloon" and "fire in your belly," the latter a gentle lament with the excellent lyric "your heart starts beating like a discotheque" and the former post-club punk. at the outset, i'll be lightning's tracks alternate between garage and folk, but as the album progresses, the rock slowly fades, revived only on "this place is killing me." finn's folky side is solid, but the electric guitar lover in me can't stomach it. another strike against finn's is the lack of catchiness; his garage tunes are jam-packed with hooks, but he seems incapable of crafting similar ones with an acoustic guitar in his fists. an exception is the title track, a progressive choral number with some swell guitar dissonance in the background.

there's too much love and loss in i'll be lightning for it to be much else than an album of regret, no matter how it's arranged. what else could a song called "remember when" imply? finn starts on the right foot, pairing his more melodramatic songs with upbeat numbers, but his sober side wins out around the album's sixth track, "lullaby," and dominates the rest of the record. i like liam finn, and i wish i'll be lightning was an album that lived up the set i saw during cmj - i guess i'll just have to wait for his next one and hope he stays in the garage a little bit longer.

"gather to the chapel" & "lead balloon"

buy i'll be lightning from

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