Polite pop songs in soothing soundscapes.
As regular readers will know, AUK has a mini-series called ‘But is it Americana?’ in which writers try to answer that question with regard to specific artists or albums (the series has considered the Monkees, Stereophonics and Dr Feelgood so far, amongst others). It’s a great idea given the indeterminate boundaries of this ‘genre’, if it can even be called that. Having named the question though, it’s hard for it not to pop up when reviewing new music.
So it was with this new EP from US and LA-based songwriter and producer Rich Jacques. If this EP was pitched to a Spotify playlist, it would probably be a strong contender for ‘coffeehouse’ or ‘acoustic moods’ or something along those lines. But how would it fare as ‘Americana’? These are pleasant and quite immediate songs blending acoustic instruments (mainly guitar or piano) and electronic soundscapes. But despite the ‘rootsy’ and ‘organic’ tones – and yes, there’s even a spot of banjo on opener ‘Montecito’ – these are pop songs at heart. Second track ‘Everything Must Change’ is the clearest example. It is a very modern production – synths, pulsing bass, treated vocals, spacey atmospheres, and a rather anthemic, somewhat predictable chorus. It’s a strong enough track on its own terms, but it owes its structure and style to contemporary pop – and perhaps especially ‘Folklore’-era Taylor Swift and related output from supergroup Big Red Machine.
Jacques’ songwriting has a simple and soothing quality. The tunes are unfussy, the delivery clear and intimate. The vocal treatment – some kind of doubling effect – reminded me a little of Gerry Raffety, a warm and inviting sound. The arrangements and atmospheres are effective in creating and conveying mood, often with a melancholy note echoing the lyrics and balancing the sweetness of the melodies. ‘Montecito’ is genuinely a lovely piece of writing, the sense of longing palpable. At the same time, the music rarely lifts or cuts loose. It doesn’t jump out of the speakers and grab your attention. It might just keep you company while you cook your tea or read a book.
This isn’t Americana, certainly not with a capital A. But perhaps someone will disagree and write another column for the series.